Do Expect Christ

There is a classic story of Christmas pageants in the Midwest. I wonder if you have heard it. When telling this story, someone is always sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling. For Wally’s performance in the annual production of the Nativity play has become a legend! Wally was nine that year and in second grade, although he could have been in fourth. He was big and sometimes a bit slow in movement, and little slower to speak. He was well liked by his classmates, all of whom were smaller than he. Although the boys had a hard time hiding their irritation when Wally played ball or any game, in which winning was important.
Even when the others tried to keep him out, he would hang about. He would not sulk but be hopeful. He was helpful and smiling. He always protected the younger ones against the older ones.
For the Christmas pageant, Wally loved the idea of being a shepherd, but Miss Lumbard, the director assigned a more important role, the innkeeper. She thought that role was perfect with less lines and his size; the refusal of lodging would be more forceful!
And finally, the night was here for the presentation of the pageant. Wally was caught up in the magic of the night along with all the others. Later, they remarked Miss Lumbard had to make sure Wallace Purling did not wander on stage before his cue.
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
“We seek lodging.”
“Seek it elsewhere.” Wally spoke vigorously. “The inn is filled.”
“Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary.”
“There is no room in this inn for you.” Wally looked properly stern.
“Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired.”
Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
“No! Begone!” the prompter whispered.
“No!” Wally repeated automatically. “Begone!”
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have my room.”
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen. (1)
Something inside of Wally seemed to move him to prepare and expect Christ. The Holy Spirit moves in the lives and hearts of us all! He was off script, but this young innkeeper made room for the baby Jesus that evening.
On this holy night as we gather to expect Christ, we find ourselves like the innkeeper of millennia ago. A diligent innkeeper would prepare not only the private rooms for the guests, but the open courtyard and troughs for the animals. The imperial call for census ahead of taxation would have put a crunch on time, but like a jolly hospitality manager knows keeping the guests happy is key! The innkeeper wanted to host as many families as possible during this busy census season. Was the innkeeper’s heart moved by the Holy Spirit that night as he made room for the holy family in stable outside? Yes. This is God’s way to remind us that we can expect Christ to show both in our picture-perfect Christmas moments as well as straw strewn messy moments as well.
We, who like the innkeeper, have been preparing. Throughout Advent, we prepare our hearts to expect hope, peace, joy, and love. In our homes, we decorate trees, put out Nativities, make cookies, and select special gifts for one another. And often like Wally, we too end up off script. Through the movement of the Holy Spirit, the governmental census taking, the announcement of the angels, the appearance of the star, or any other method that God might use to get our attention. When we expect Christ, we open ourselves to the delightful possibility that Christ will be show when we least expect company.
The birth of Jesus changed the life of innkeeper forever, just like Emmanuel, God with us, redeems and transforms our lives. The good news of a great joy is that Jesus Christ is born tonight and always for each of us. May, we like Wally look for and expect Christ in our lives. The humble Christ is born in a stable and in our hearts alike. May we too make room in our lives for Jesus.
This is the Gospel, the good news of Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.