Luke 2: 1-20
December 24, 2012 - Christmas Eve
Because I learned earlier today that it was not the message I was supposed to share with you this evening, on this Christmas Eve. The message that you needed to hear is "Thank You." A simple but extremely heartfelt “Thank You.” The thanks comes from a man named Dennis. You probably don’t know him, and that’s perfectly okay. He wanted me to tell you how much he appreciates all you did for him, and how he’ll never forget this Christmas Eve for the rest of his life, thanks to you.
I got to know Dennis around 10 o’clock this morning. That was when my home phone rang. “Is this the pastor,” the man on the other end asked. You know the sound a human voice makes when you can tell they’re at their rope’s end; when they would have a mental breakdown if they had enough energy to? That was the sound of the voice on the other end of the phone.
I answered that yes, I was the pastor. And that's when he told me that his name was Dennis. He was at the Brintle truck stop at the 89 & 77 intersection, hanging out in the lobby area at the front where it was warm and dry. He had been there all morning, after his last ride had dropped him off because he couldn't take him any further. All Dennis asked was if he could sleep on the church floor in the corner of some room, just for a night; someplace warm and dry, because he hadn't slept indoors in two weeks. And if he could get a loaf of bread or something, that'd be great too.
I told Dennis that I could help him out and would be there in an hour. Except it wasn't just "me" who was going to help him. It was "you" – all of you here tonight. Because Dennis hadn't called my home phone that morning to speak to Steve Lindsley. He called to speak to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church. He was calling all of you. So from this point on, it was “you” who was going to help him.
So, YOU all drove to The Hollows on Hwy. 52 and booked Dennis a room for the night. After that, you headed across the street to Sagebrush and got a $25 gift certificate, since they’d be open that night until 8pm. You did this with the benevolence fund our church has to help folks like Dennis in need. With those two things taken care of, you then drove out to Brintle’s to meet Dennis. You found him right at the entrance; a man in his late 40's, you would guess, wearing heavy clothing and boots and a backpack filled with everything he owned. He was a broken man, you could tell; not someone who would take advantage of the situation. He was so very glad to see you.
As you headed back into town, Dennis told you his story. He was coming from Portland, Maine, where he had lost his job two weeks before. He had a brother in Texas who said he could take him in, but he'd have to get there by himself. He had no home, no car, nothing. So he had been hitchhiking his way, relying completely on the kindness of strangers. You asked him where he spent last night. Under an overpass in Virginia, he said. He had a fire going to keep him warm, but a state trooper came by in the middle of the night and made him put it out, because he said the concrete bridge might burn down. "I'm just so melancholy," he said to you. "I don't know what to do, other than keep going. Keep going and find room whenever I can."
Gives a whole new meaning to the expression "no room at the inn,” doesn't it?
You’ve probably never seen someone get so excited over a restaurant gift card. What you’d consider to be a gift you give someone when you can't think of anything else, Dennis treated like it was gold, frankincense and myrrh. As you pulled into the hotel parking lot, he told you with more than a hint of joy that he would go get something to eat and bring it back to his room, where he would eat and "sleep like a baby,” because he was so incredibly tired.
You asked Dennis what he was going to do tomorrow, knowing that it would be Christmas Day and there wouldn’t be many people at all on the roads, much less kind strangers. He told you that he would probably try and get back over to Brintle, knowing that a major thoroughfare like I-77 would be his best shot. And let me say as an aside, if any of you have any interest in possibly helping Dennis get back over there tomorrow morning after he checks out, please come see me after worship tonight.
As you said goodbye to Dennis, he couldn't stop saying "thank you.” Could not stop saying it. The man was starving, exhausted, at his rope's end. But he was so thankful, so incredibly thankful. Because, as it turned out, there was room at the Inn for Dennis. And he couldn’t have been more grateful for it.
So let me congratulate you for what you did this morning. But still, it doesn’t seem right, does it? Doesn’t seem fair. After all, it’s Christmas! And this is a time for family and friends. This is a time for Christmas traditions we engage in year after year after year. This is time to get the Christmas tree decorated, to wrap and open presents, to go caroling and attend Christmas concerts and pageants. To go to the church Christmas Eve Communion and Candlelight service.
But that’s not what Christmas really is, if we’re honest with ourselves. In fact, the truth of the matter is that Dennis’ Christmas looks a whole lot more like the original one than our own. There was nothing planned or anticipated about that first Christmas. There were no traditions. It was chaotic, haphazard, unplanned; one crisis blending seamlessly into another. It wasn’t like Mary and Joseph had planned this long journey to Bethlehem – they were forced to go against their will. No telling where they slept along the way, if they slept at all. No telling where they got their food, if they ate at all. Relying totally and completely on the kindness of strangers, when and if that kindness ever came.
And then, in their hour of greatest need, when Mary was about to give birth to her firstborn and there was no room at the inn, they found help. They found YOU. And while they would’ve gladly slept on the church floor in the corner of some room, you got them a room at The Hollows and a gift card to Sagebrush. You welcomed them into your life and into your hearts. And they were so grateful for it. They were changed by it – as were you.
I’m going to be thinking a lot about Dennis this Christmas; about that other message we were apparently supposed to hear this year. I’m going to be thinking about the fact that he’ll be sleeping in a warm bed with a full belly. That on this night, at least, he has a home. That there really was room for him after all. In fact, I think that should be the title for this new Christmas Eve meditation: “There Was Room For Dennis.” Yeah, that sounds right.
My friends, let there always be room for the strangers in our midst. Let there always be room for God to come along and surprise us with a new message. And on this Christmas Eve, may there always be room for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, in spite of our routines and traditions and celebrations. May we welcome them into our hearts and into our lives, this holy night and forevermore. Come, Immanuel, Come. Thanks be to God, AMEN.
POSTSCRIPT: After worship I was immediately inundated by half a dozen folks who wanted to help Dennis even more than we already had. Within minutes, arrangements were made for a church member to drive him to the bus station in Winston-Salem in the morning (yes, Christmas morning), pay for a bus ticket to Texas, and provide him an envelope of cash to help him out the rest of the way. Once again, I am blown away by the amazing generosity of this church, and the miracles that God can perform through you. Merry Christmas!