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 ten-year-old boy named Barry 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 Barry ruin another Christmas play: “Please, teacher, could you leave Barry 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 Barry 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?
Barry 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. Barry 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 Barry’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 Barry 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 Barry’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 Barry finished it: “Wait! You can have my room!” All bedlam broke loose. Barry had done it again; he had ruined another Christmas play. But then, maybe not.
The director quieted the crowd and said, “Maybe, just maybe, Barry 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 turn away from a world in need, from the cries of creation for mending and healing, from our brothers and sisters who are lonely, oppressed, wounded, and lost, we turn away from Christ. When we fail to offer food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the destitute, and companionship to the lonely, we are turning Christ away (see Matt 25:34-46).
I hope that in the spirit of Christmas all Christians who are lambasting the President for issuing an executive order to offer deportation relief to several million undocumented people will realize that when they turn away from the most vulnerable in our society (legal citizens or undocumented immigrants) they are turning Christ away. When any of us fail to make room for the disadvantaged in our hearts or in our country, we are failing to make room for Christ.
(The above story was drawn from my book, Shimmers of Light: Spiritual Reflections for the Christmas Season. My source for the story was a sermon I heard years ago. I don’t remember the name of the minister who preached it.)
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward.