a heavenly host

There is no room in the inn. The baby is born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. God arrives incognito, unrecognized, there is no reservation. This is the first thing about this night. God regularly arrives incognito, unrecognized, without a reservation. Hosting the heavenly guest means making room as you are able for all manner of guests. This is the reason that monasteries and convents have long lived by the discipline that no one who knocks at the door and asks for shelter can be turned away. Jesus arrives in the least of these visitors. But, of course, sometimes there is actually no more room. Sometimes even the stable is already filled with guests. Sometimes the monastery or the homeless shelter is simply way beyond its capacity. Sometimes your life will implode if you make room for yet another cause or worry. Then what? Then we gather here, on this night, and thank God that room is found somewhere, somehow with someone. Then we thank God that, in the end, it is not up to us to be the perfect hosts. Yes, we watch for signs of God intruding into our busy lives. Yes, we pray that we may host the heavenly guest incognito. But mainly we give thanks that the heavenly guest has found room and still finds room in this crowded world.

Have you noticed? There is a second host in this story: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God” (Luke 2:1-20). This is a different kind of host. Not the kind that welcomes in strangers and sets a rich feast before them. No. This host is an army. Yes, an army. That is the Greek word that the New Testament uses here. That is another meaning of “host” in English. It is from the same Latin word that means “hostile”. It means an enemy. The shepherds look into the sky and see a great army. I had always imagined a lovely choir singing in angelic harmony. Now I wonder what God’s army looks like and what it is doing here on this quiet night of peace and comfort and joy. Well, actually, I think that I know what God’s army is doing here on this night. It is here because this is a story about how God overcomes the trouble we know, that our city and country knows, that this world of nations and this creation knows. There is a lot of trouble in here and out there. Trouble that seems too much for us to handle, to resolve, to overcome. The birth of a baby in Bethlehem hardly seems reason to imagine that the ache and grief and oppression will be ended. But the shepherds see otherwise. They see that the baby arrives with an army of compassion. Yes, it is a salvation army, made up of angels of mercy. I don’t know what trouble you know tonight. I only know that you can take heart in the heavenly host who have entered the fray.

Hidden in this story is one more host. It is the child, laid in the manger. He arrives as a holy guest but will die as a sacrificial host. This is the reason that the bread that is broken and shared when we celebrate the sacrament of communion is called “the host”. It doesn’t just mean that he is one who welcomes in strangers - though Jesus certainly does make room for every kind of soul no matter how battered or weary or troubled. And it doesn’t just mean that he is one with the power of an army to overcome the trouble - though Jesus certainly has power to heal and redeem all manner of broken hearts, families, and peoples. This host, this bread ‘broken for you’, is one who makes room and heals the trouble by sacrificing everything. This is a God who gives life to the world by dying on its behalf. Jesus Christ reveals the heart and ways of God. In him we discover that life in all its fullness lies on the other side of dying - dying to anxiety, dying to the need to be in control, dying to the power of death itself.

Jesus is a host with room for you. Jesus is a host with power to overcome your trouble. Jesus is a host whose death offers life to you and to all the world. Thank God.

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