TITLE: Looking for Christ at Christmas SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:1-20
Christian author Frederick Buechner tells of being in Rome at Christmastime. He went to St. Peter's on Christmas Eve to see the Pope celebrate Mass.
Thousands of people began arriving hours early. Soon the great cathedral was filled. The crowd milled around, elbowing each other to get as near as possible to the papal altar with its huge bronzed canopy. Some had brought food to sustain them through their long wait. Now and then singing swept spontaneously through the great crowd.
Finally, after hours of waiting, the crowd hushed. Way off in the distance, Buechner saw the Swiss Guard with the golden throne on their shoulders. The crowd pressed toward the aisle. Amid a burst of cheering, the procession worked its way slowly forward.
Buechner especially remembers the Pope himself –– Pope Pius XII. While the Swiss Guard was dressed in scarlet and gold, the pope was dressed in plain white. Buechner studied the pope's face as the throne passed by –– that lean ascetic face, gray-skinned, with the high-bridged beak of a nose, his eyeglasses glittering in the candlelight.
As the procession passed him, Buechner noticed that the pope was leaning slightly forward and peering into the crowd with extraordinary intensity. He tells us what he saw:
Through the thick lenses of his glasses, (the pope's) eyes were larger than life,
and he peered into my face and into all the faces around me and behind me
with a look so deep and so charged that I could not escape the feeling
that he must be looking for someone in particular.
He was not a royal leader nodding and smiling to acknowledge the enthusiasm of the multitudes. He was a man whose face seemed gray with waiting,
whose eyes seemed huge and exhausted with searching, for someone, someone,
whom he thought might be there that night, but whom he had never found,
and yet he kept looking.
Face after face he searched for the face that he knew he would know. Was it this one? Was it this one? Or this one? And then he passed out of sight.
Was He looking for Christ at Christmas? It sounds peculiar that the Pope would be looking so intently in the crowds –– as if he were expecting to find the Christ among them.
Looking for Christ at Christmas! On that first Christmas, nobody was looking for Christ.
–– The innkeeper wasn't looking for Christ. He was just trying to keep his head above water. It was his busiest season. He was struggling just to keep up with the crowds that swirled by his door. He had long since filled all his rooms, and still they came. With the place full, he had bulbs to change –– groceries to buy –– complainers to deal with. And still they came. He kept saying, "Sorry," and still they came. He couldn't imagine where they would stay. Everyplace was booked solid!
–– The shepherds weren't looking for Christ. They were just taking care of their sheep. It was a dirty, lonely business, but it was their job. They were looking forward to the time when they could go home, get cleaned up, and sleep in a real bed. They had no reason to believe that this day would be any different than every other day.
The angels brought the good news to the shepherds –– and to us:
"Do not be afraid;
for see –– I am bringing you good news of great joy
for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah, the Lord.
Looking for Christ at Christmas! Are we looking for Christ this Christmas? Are our eyes searching the crowds, hoping expectantly to find the one who can save us –– and our nation –– and our world? Or are we caught up in lesser things?
It is easy to get caught up in lesser things at Christmas, isn't it! We want so badly to get just the right presents for everyone –– and to get the perfect tree –– and to have the house just so.
But we run out of money before we run out of friends –– and we circle the mall looking vainly for a parking place –– and the kids get sick –– and we get tired –– and we are tempted to say with old Scrooge, "Bah, Humbug!"
Or sometimes we are like the little girl who liked Santa Claus better than Jesus. She explained, "You have to be good for Santa only at Christmas, but you have to be good for Jesus all the time."
Are you looking for Christ this Christmas? Do you really expect to see him this Christmas? Do you expect him to come into your home? Do you expect to meet him in church? Or is Jesus just two-thousand-year-old history. Are we looking for Christ at Christmas, or are we just remembering a Christ who has come and gone?
If we wanted to find Christ this Christmas, where would we look? If we saw him, what would we do? I heard a story that might give us a clue.
The church was getting ready for the Christmas pageant. They were a little concerned about Barry. Barry usually managed to botch things up. But they decided to let Barry play the innkeeper. All he would have to do is to say two words, "No room!" Even Barry could do that!
The big night came. All the children gathered at the front of the church. Joseph stepped forward and said, "My wife is pregnant. Do you have a place where we could stay?" Barry said, "No room."
Joseph persisted, "But we have no place to go. My wife is about to have a baby." Barry looked at Mary. His chin began to quiver. How could he turn them away? But his line was "No room," so he said it one more time –– "No room!" With that, Joseph and Mary turned and started to walk away.
Barry stood it as long as he could. Then he called after them, "Wait! Don't go! You can have my room!" With that, I believe that Barry found Christ that Christmas.
We all imagine how well we would have treated Jesus if we had been there the night of his birth –– if we had been the innkeeper. We would have given Joseph and Mary the best room in the house –– room service –– the best doctors. But we cannot do that. That night is gone forever.
But I would like for you to hear the words of Jesus again –– the words of Jesus, the man, after he was grown. He said:
The king will say to those at his right hand,
"Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me."
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord,
when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
And when was it that we saw you a stranger
and welcomed you,
or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison
and visited you?"
And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me."
You see, we don't really have to look for Christ this Christmas. If we are doing his work –– being his people –– he will find us and bless us. May the blessings of Christ be with each of you this Christmas. Amen.