Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Have you ever thought in-depth about the “no room in the inn” business? Here are a few questions just to get your mental motors running. Isn’t there always room for one more? If King Herod showed up at the last minute, would a room “suddenly” have become available? If the innkeeper knew Who was about to be born and what notoriety (unpaid advertising) that might subsequently bring to his establishment, would Joseph and Mary get a room free of charge? And, of utmost importance, if you were the innkeeper, would you find room?
Surely we, in the innkeeper’s place, would have made room. Yet, we often crowd the Christ Child out of our own homes and lives with all the rest of the stuff that is happening during the holidays. After the holidays, a similar temptation takes over. Either we pack Jesus away with the rest of the decorations until next year, or we somehow try to keep Him manger-bound. There is something marvelously warm and sentimental about an infant, cradled in a feed box, under the tender care of mother and father and the watchful eyes of docile animals. The scene is further amplified by gentle shepherds, kneeling at His side, and honorable wise men approaching on their faithful dromedaries. This dependent, meek and mild infant is easier to take than the self-assured teacher who has expectations of us.
The Evangelist Luke will not leave well enough alone. His story about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth takes a giant leap from eight days of age to 12 years, and then another from 12 to 30. The 12- year-old episode is Sunday’s Gospel lesson. Joseph and Mary traveled, in what was apparently a fairly large company, to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When it was over, the company went back home. We may find it surprising that they were a full day into the return journey before they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them. It took three days in all to find Him. Imagine how they felt when then finally found Him in the temple courts. Mary immediately scolded Him: “Son, why have you treated us like this?”
As the conversation continues, Luke reveals Jesus’ growing sense of identity, purpose and destiny. Mary’s words and Jesus’ response contain a common word with dramatically different meanings. Mary says, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus answers, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Gently, perhaps, but with no soft-pedaling subtlety, Jesus takes the name “Father” from Joseph and gives it to God.
From a strictly human point of view, we parents can take some real comfort from this story–even the best of children occasionally cause their parents considerable consternation. We can also take a lesson in the importance of rearing our children with a clear and unmistakable understanding of their relationship with God. The stresses of our times so often prevent people from ever discovering any identity for themselves or meaning for their lives. I am certain that these things unfold best from a combination of our belief in and understanding of God and our belief in and understanding of ourselves.
The goals of my preaching and writing can be boiled down to two categories–that my hearers or readers will have a new or growing faith in God, or that their lives may be changed, enriched or in some way bettered. I am convinced that these two are related. Faith changes behavior and living a relationship with God strengthens faith. Here is a thought that set my mind reeling on enough sermons to fill 2001! While I am trying to discover ways that the Christmas message can help your faith grow and perhaps while you are trying similarly to apply that message to your own lives, suddenly the message of Christmas is not so much about our faith in Him as about an unmistakable expression of the Father’s belief in us!
Let there be no doubt that “God so loved the world that He sent His Son.” At the same time, He sent His Son believing that His coming would make a difference! As I think about it, that faith shows a remarkable optimism on His part. The same faith and optimism is present in Jesus. He poured out all His love and His life in the confidence that we would be changed and would in turn change the world.
Now, don’t go jumping to something supernatural. Don’t go saying that He knew it would work or that He used His power to make it work. Trust me when I tell you that Jesus would never have gone through what He did if simply overpowering us were an alternative. He could have done that, but He didn’t. God’s love for you is such that He invites you, entices you, enables you, but never forces you. Unless He leaves you free not to love Him, you cannot love Him at all. Never confuse forced obedience with love or faith!
I decided a long time ago that the biggest difference between God and us is in the phrase, “There’s a limit.” I have heard wives say it about husbands, husbands about wives, parents about children, children about parents, brothers about brothers, sisters about sisters and friends about friends. Nations have said it about other nations, employers about employees and vice-versa. As a matter of fact, we human beings have found limits to just about everything except maybe the universe and definitely God’s love. At any time in His life, Jesus or His Father could have said, “That’s enough! There’s a limit.”
I marvel not only that God never quit His efforts, but that He ever started! Jesus came to this world trusting Joseph and Mary to care for Him. He trusted His disciples to follow Him (even not to deny or betray Him). He trusts you and me to believe in Him enough to let Him change us and, through us, the rest of the world. If that doesn’t surprise you then you have never studied history!
If the whole of human history is not enough, then the specific history of the Old Testament clearly shows the continuing failure of humanity to love and trust God above anything else–no matter what He did. Yet, He sent His Son. Yet, His Son came to our world, to His Father’s house and about His Father’s business and on to His destiny.
The very best of Feddersen’s Fables are true stories. Two of the best come from Christmas seasons past. I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., as a member of a congregation where my grandfather had served until he died. I never met him. The only pastor I remember growing up was Pastor A.J. Meyer. The sainted Pastor Meyer’s favorite Christmas story–the kind every pastor tells at more than one Christmas–came from the days when municipalities still openly displayed their Christianity. Right in the middle of downtown on Market Street in St. Louis, all around the fountains, the city displayed one Christmas scene after another. The entire story of Christ’s birth was depicted for all to see.
Walking around the square one night, Pastor Meyer saw a small boy, looking very intently at a display. The pastor asked, “Do you know what that is about?” The lad shook his head back and forth, but didn’t speak.
Pastor Meyer walked through the entire story with him, explaining the greatest gift of the universe’s greatest Love. When he finished, the little boy looked up at him and said, “Mister, nobody never told me nuthin’ about that.”
Nobody has ever told the Good News about Jesus in a meaningful way to four billion people in the world. It is our Father’s business to tell them and we must be about our Father’s business.
The other story is more personal. One night after a children’s Christmas program, the mother of a 4-year- old, blonde, blue-eyed, beauty of a little girl came up to me and told me this story. The little darling was usually very shy and super-quiet around all of us, but I had heard that she jabbered away with the best of them around family and friends. When she and her family were all getting dressed to come to the children’s program, she told her grandmother, “Christmas is love and joy and happiness; and I’m so lucky cause we have all three.” Looking at her through glassy, tear-filled eyes, Grandma asked, “Where did you hear that?” She answered, “From Pastor Earl.”
I have to stop now. I can’t see the computer keys, and water is dripping on them from some place and it might cause a short. God gives us Christ and Christmas, with His love and joy and happiness. And He gives us His mission–I wonder if He cries, too, when some of it, no matter how small, comes back to Him.