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The Missing Piece

Sermon
Sermons on the Second Readings
Series III, Cycle B
He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own.
-- Titus 2:14

During this Christmas season, we usually get together with some other families and spend a couple of days together. Someone always brings out a jigsaw puzzle. We set up the card table and scatter the pieces. It's not like we spend all day huddled around the puzzle. We walk by, we eat, we grab a piece, connect it, eat, and finally, after much fanfare, celebration, and food, the puzzle is completed when that last piece is slipped into place. Then we eat. What a life!

Except those times when you come down to the very end and there's one piece missing. Isn't that awful? You never give yourself a high five for the 999 pieces already in place. No, it's that one last piece of the puzzle that has you so vexed.

Sometimes I look at this story of the birth of Jesus the same way -- like some huge jigsaw puzzle. And, for the most part, all the pieces fit.

Like this piece. The baby -- God becomes flesh. I get it. I know why God had to become a man. God wanted a relationship with us, to enter into our lives. But even more than that, for Jesus to take on the full penalty of our sin, suffer our punishment, endure our penalty, and die our death, he had to become fully human. I get it. It fits.

Or this piece. Bethlehem. Of course, Bethlehem. Micah said the Messiah will come from Bethlehem because that was the home of David and the Messiah had to come from David's family.

The piece about the census also fits. Mary and Joseph were living in Nazareth. They had no reason to go to Bethlehem except on orders of the emperor to be counted for more taxes. The census fits.

I know why Mary. Pure, faithful, obedient, favored. It fits.

I know why Joseph. Righteous, understanding, gracious. It fits.

Even the deep theological reason that Titus gives for the coming of Jesus -- to redeem us from all iniquity. That piece is a corner piece to the whole puzzle. Of course it fits.

Even the ordinary piece. A peasant family from a no-name village. Nothing special. Simple folk. Uneducated. It fits. Even the name of Jesus piece. It fits. In the first century it was an ordinary name. There must have been ten Jesuses at his village. If he were born today, it would have been like Joe or Sam or John. Why? Because it fits. King Herod sent troops out to kill this new king of the Jews but he was looking for a majestic, full grown, military start up looking to conquer Herod's kingdom and set up his own government. He wasn't looking for the ordinary Jesus.

You see, it fits. It all fits. Since the foundation of the earth, God had every piece to this puzzle perfectly fit to bring forth his Son at the fullness of time. Nine hundred and ninety-nine pieces are in place. It should be time to celebrate. Except there's a hole, isn't there? A missing piece. Luke says, "there was no room for them in the inn."

If the details of the Bible matter, if the Bible is something more than just creative writing, why include this detail, this piece? Does it fit?

Oh, I know why there was no room -- Bethlehem was overrun by other peasants who were in town for the same census. The rooms were all taken. But if the Lord God almighty, the king of the universe, can open up a parking space for me right in front of the mall on December 23, couldn't he find one space for Jesus?

We can't believe for a moment that this was an oversight by God or that God somehow forgot to make the reservation. This event had been planned down to the smallest piece for centuries. No, this piece has to fit, they all fit, but how? No room in the inn. Is it just because a stable is a logical place for shepherds to visit? Is it just because a stable is so ordinary? Is it just because the very thought of Jesus without a room is so pitiful and makes for a great nativity scene?

There was no room for them in the inn. Why? I used to think that it fit the whole humility theme. You know, shepherds, peasants, young unwed mother, no crib for a bed. The gospel always turns our world upside down. It always comes as a surprise. The last will be first, the first will be last. To be great, you must be a servant. To live, you must die. What greater twist, what greater turn to the gospel to have the King of kings and Lord of lords born in a barn?

But when I tried to fill that hole with this piece, the lines didn't quite line up. The colors didn't quite blend. It was close. But not quite.

Sometimes when you are working on a jigsaw puzzle, you need to step back, get a different perspective, turn the piece ever so slightly and then try it again.

No room in the inn. Can you imagine that night? It's eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She's tired. She's pregnant. Not much to eat. It's late when they arrive and Murphy's Law goes into effect -- it's late, it's cold, they have no room, no family, neither one knows "nothin' about birthin' no babies," and now she goes into labor -- I bet it was raining, too. No room. Not for you. Not here. You, Jesus -- go away! Go anywhere but here.

It starts there. A life of rejection. It doesn't start with Jesus' cry from the cross -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It doesn't begin with Peter -- "I do not know the man." It doesn't begin with Judas -- thirty pieces of silver. It doesn't begin with Jewish leaders plotting to kill him. The rejection begins here, in Bethlehem, the very first day he enters our world, by an innkeeper who had no room for Jesus. It begins there and continues today here, in the hearts of those who still have no room for Jesus. Not here. Not you. Go away. You are not welcome. Not in my life.

Rejection. Rejected by the very ones he came to save. Rejected by a world that loves the darkness. Rejected by those who have no room, no time, no need for a Savior. Does that fit? Unfortunately, it fits.

No room. No room. Not in the inn. Not anywhere. Did Jesus ever have a room? Was he ever welcomed? I suppose he had a room in Nazareth where he grew up -- though the Bible says nothing about these early years. When he is twelve and his parents lost him in Jerusalem for a couple of days, remember where they found him? The temple. Remember what Jesus said to his frantic parents? "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:4a). Bet he had a room there.

Strange. As far as we know, as an adult, Jesus was homeless. We can go to Mount Vernon to see the home of George Washington. But Jesus has no home. In fact, when one disciple said that he would follow Jesus anywhere, Jesus said, "Foxes have dens to live in, and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20).

From the moment he was born, we gave him our very worst -- from a stable to a cross. We gave him our very worst. And yet he exposed himself to the full dangers of this world, from a drafty, dirty stable to a cross for one reason -- not to find himself a home. He didn't need one. Instead, he came to give you a home. He chose the least so you could have the most. He chose the cross so you could have a place at the table. He chose to die so that you would never be left out in the cold. That's the missing piece.

We reject him for so many reasons -- no room in the inn, no room in my heart, no room in my calendar, no room in my priorities. It is a rejection that leads right to the cross -- you, Jesus, must die! And yet it is Jesus who rejects our rejection and says with amazing grace, "In my Father's house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

See, that's the missing piece, the way God had pictured it. The Bible says that you were made not for this world but you were made for eternity. This is not your home any more than a stable is a home for Jesus. The Bible calls your earthly body a tent, which will one day be torn down and replaced with a home that God has made for you.

That fits. The picture is complete. Now, what about your picture? Any holes? The picture you had of the perfect family, the perfect job, the perfect life, the perfect Christmas? What about your picture? Is it complete? Or is there still one piece missing? It's strange, isn't it? Like this jigsaw puzzle, you can have 999 pieces in place. For the most part, it looks pretty good -- can't complain, much. But it is the hole that reminds us that the picture is not perfect, it's not complete, it's not right. There is that hole. Feel it?

Study after study, poll after poll tells us over and over again that we are busier than ever, getting more done than ever, making more money than ever, and yet we are more unhappy today than ever before. Why? It's not the 999 pieces in place. It's that one hole. A hole that we try to fill with more activities, more money, more pleasure -- but it can only be filled by this same piece we have here tonight, by this one the world has rejected but who has not rejected you.

"He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own" (Titus 2:14).

That's the missing piece. Jesus, the rejected one, who comes to you this night saying, "I know you have no room for me in the inn. You have no room for me in your heart. You have no room for me in your schedule. You have no room for me in your family, your work, your future. The only place you made room for me was a cross. But it was for that reason I came according to the perfect plan of God, to fill that hole in your picture, to erase that guilt from your sin, to remove that fear of your death with a promise -- I go to prepare a home for you. So that where I am -- there you will be also, one day, together with me in my Father's house."

That's the missing piece in the picture -- your picture. Isn't it? Amen.

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