The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 12/24/2000
Text: Luke 2:1-20
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

One of the most familiar stories in all the Bible, isn't it? Even the most irreligious among us have memories of shepherds in bathrobes with towels on their heads. Animals...sometimes cardboard, sometimes live and uncontrollable to the delight of everyone in attendance.

There was a Preschool Christmas program at 1st Presbyterian Church, in Winchester, VA a couple of years ago.(1) After the obligatory waves and "Hi Mommy"'s, the production began. The angel's sang when they were supposed to. The donkeys brayed "I, the Donkey" when appropriate. The stars were lifted high at the proper time. In other words, all was going according to plan. The story ended without incident. Then the parents were asked to allow the children to ask the blessing before everyone progressed to the fellowship hall for punch and cookies. The blessing was familiar for the first couple of lines: "God is great, God is good..." Suddenly, the prayer was loudly interrupted by one boy wishing to bring his father into compliance with established behavior. "Daddy, bow your head! Daddy, you're supposed to bow your head! Daddy! PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN!" timed almost to perfection with the rest of the group saying "Amen."

Did it end then? No. "Daddy, can you hear me? Are you listening?" By now all eyes are focused on the embarrassed father who was trying to videotape the whole thing. One last comment from the son, in a much gentler tone: "Daddy, I love you!"

Somewhere or other I came across the story of one little lad who was looking forward to his church's annual Christmas pageant, because he was finally becoming the right age to play Joseph. He had been playing a donkey or a sheep or some other animal for years, and he thought it was about time he got a speaking part.

Well, the time for rehearsals came around, and sure enough, Dennis got a speaking part, but as the Innkeeper, not as Joseph. Dennis was very disappointed because he really had his heart set on playing Joseph, so he thought up a plan for getting even.

Pageant night. Mary and Joseph made their entrance into Bethlehem, looking for lodging. They encountered the innkeeper, played by Dennis, and asked if there was room for them at his inn. Dennis, who had not forgotten his disappointment at not being picked to play Joseph, said, "Sure, there's room for you. Come on in!"

But the little girl playing Mary, remembering full well how the story is supposed to go, said, "Let's keep looking, Joseph. This place is a dump!"

I love it. Of course, Dennis could have played an angel. One of the joys for pastors and pageant directors is that there can be lots and lots of angels - "a multitude of the heavenly host," says scripture. That means there is always a place for one more child in the angels choir.(2) Only one Mary, one Joseph, three wise men (not because the Bible says so, but because that is what tradition has handed down) and there seems to be an effective limit of five or six on shepherds. But there are no limits on angels. So, even the child who is new, or slow, or rowdy has a place in this tableau.

Notice something: the story is very ordinary until the angels arrive. But when the angels enter, everything changes. The shepherds are terrified. All of that light, all of that glory and the presence of someone incredible. The first thing out of the angel's mouth was, "Do not be afraid." No learned theological discourse, no recitation of the Ten Commandments, no complicated statements of doctrine. There was nothing "churchy" about this. The word was, "Now don't be afraid. I have some very good news for you - You can be filled with joy, everyone can. There is a newborn baby. The baby is the Savior...the Anointed one of God. The baby is the Lord. And, you can find that baby. You can touch, see, and hold that baby. Then the Angel Choir could not hold back any more, and they started to sing.

When the angels were through singing, the shepherds went and checked it out. It was exactly the way the angel said it was. Wow!

Beloved, that story still means now exactly what it meant when it happened. The message is still the same. Do not be afraid. Is there something in your life that ought not to be that is keeping you from God? Do not be afraid. Is there some secret sin that you fear you will never overcome? Do not be afraid. Is there some hurt that threatens to overwhelm you with pain? Do not be afraid. Whatever it is in your life that is a cause of fear, you do not have to be afraid. You see, something special has happened. A baby has been born. A Savior. Christ the Lord. And there is room for YOU around his cradle. In the same way that there is always room in the Angel Choir for one more child, even if that child acts up in the rehearsal, there is always room for one more soul in God's love, even if that soul messes up royally in the rehearsal for heaven called life.

This is a great story. It is very good news. Let the hope that is in you overcome your fears. There really is a place for you. You really do have a Savior. And that Savior invites you to join him now in a simple meal. You are more than welcome. There is ALWAYS room for one more angel.


1. Glenn Grant, via PresbyNet, "Illustrations for This Week," #505, 12/23/97

2. Rev. Hugh Mager, Evangelism division of the Episcopal Church Center, New York, posted via Ecunet in "Worship that Works," #175, 12/15/97

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