As preachers and stories go, we tend to pick them up all over and sometimes forget where we got them. I can’t recall the source, but one of my favorite Christmas stories is about a little church that traditionally had a Christmas play for all the children and the “adult children” who loved it just as much.
There was a 10-year-old boy named Berry who had been a disaster in every Christmas play in which he had been involved. One year his angel wings caught on fire, which nearly burned down the church. The next year, as Herod the Great, he jumped from his throne and, in his usual clumsy way, jerked the carpet out from under the three wise men and dumped them on their heads.
The children begged the director not to let Berry ruin another Christmas play: “Please, teacher, could you leave Berry out this year?”
But how could she reject a little boy who tried his best and loved Jesus with all his heart, even if he was a bit clumsy? She was able to convince the other children that Berry couldn’t do any real damage by playing the innkeeper of Bethlehem. He just opened and closed a door and spoke one short line. What damage could he possibly do?
Berry made it through all the rehearsals and the dress rehearsal perfectly. Then, the big night arrived, when all the mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends and loved ones gathered to relive the Christmas story with their children. Berry was given a chance to redeem himself from all his previous mishaps. He opened the door of the inn and looked straight into the face of Mary and Joseph. Mary, very sad and pale, sat on a little donkey, which they had never used in practice. The scene looked so real.
On that special night when all the props were in place and with Mary playing her part so well, you could almost hear the wind whistling around the cold stone walls of the inn and blowing the thin cloak of gentle Mary. When it was Berry’s time to speak, he spoke out loudly and clearly. His timing and emphasis were impeccable: “Be gone, I have no room for the likes of you!” Then Berry watched Mary and Joseph turn sadly away into the cold night. Those on the front row later said that they saw tears well up in Berry’s eyes and his lips start to tremble.
“Wait!” cried Barry. It came like a thunderclap. Every heart in the room stopped. This wasn’t in the script of the familiar Christmas story.
Then Berry finished it: “Wait! You can have my room!” All bedlam broke loose. Berry had done it again; he had ruined another Christmas play.
But then, maybe not.
The director quieted the crowd and said, “Maybe, just maybe, Berry has given us the greatest message of all. He could not turn away the Christ child, even in a play.”
What about us? Will we shut Jesus out?
When we ignore the cries of creation for mending and healing by sitting idly by while our representatives roll back laws that protect God’s good creation, we turn away the Christ.
When our president and those in his administration target God’s “little ones” (the undocumented, LGBTQ persons, people of color, etc.) by spreading lies and racist propaganda about them and by deporting them back into poverty and harm’s way, separating families and destroying lives, and when we say nothing and do nothing and vote in office legislators who favor these policies of death, we turn away the Christ who identifies with all the downtrodden ones (Matt. 25:34-46).
When we say nothing and do nothing as Congress passes new tax law under the guise of “reform” that gives the wealthy huge tax breaks while sticking it to the poor, legislation that further expands the great disparity between the very-well-to-do and the not-so-well-off, then we turn away the Christ.
When we fail to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and when we fail to offer help and care to those beaten down by life because we are too caught up in our own agenda, then we turn away the Christ.
When any of us fail to make room for the disadvantaged and the downcast, the hurting and the grieving, either in our hearts or in our communities and country, we fail to make room for Christ.
As another Berry, Wendell Berry, reminds us in the character of Jayber Crow, “Those who wish to see Him [the Christ] must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. … We are too tightly tangled together to be able to separate ourselves from one another either by good or by evil. We are all involved in all and any good, and in all and any evil. For any sin, we all suffer. That is why our suffering is endless. It is why God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding.”