Business (A Christmas Sermon)

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I am not a good man.
I never claimed to be.
Now don’t get me wrong,
I’m not a bad man, either.

But the world is a hard place,
and if you’re going to make your way through it,
you have to be hard, too . . .
that’s what I always say.

My wife, she loves me,
but she gives me a hard time.

“You’re so callous!” she says.
“You’re so cold-hearted!
Always the bottom line with you!”

But do you know what I say to her?
I say, “You don’t understand!
We’re running a business!
We can’t just give it all away for free
to every sob story that comes through the door!”
This is business!”

Oh, and what is our business?
Why, hospitality, of course.

Owner and proprietor
of Bethlehem’s Best Bed & Breakfast
at your service!

We offer clean rooms
at an affordable price . . .
so long as you’re willing to pay.
And let me tell you:
lately business has been good.

Our city is not a large town.
In fact, Bethlehem is the kind of place
you try to get out of,
not the kind of place
you try to come to.

But thanks to the emperor,
there’s been loads of traffic.

Why, one night
not too long ago . . .
I’ll never forget.

You see, the emperor had called for a census
in order to increase his taxes,
and every family had to go back
to the place of their fathers’ birth.

It was madness.
It was chaos.
But it was business!

We were bursting at the seams.
We had every room filled to capacity.

And just after the sun had set
I went down to lock the front door
and post the sign with the two best words
in our entire vocabulary:
“No vacancy.”

But right when I closed it—
knock, knock, knock—
there came a knock.

‘Don’t open it,’ I thought.
‘Don’t open it.
Whoever it is,
you can’t help them.
There’s no more room.
Do not open it.’

But I opened it!
And there stood
this poor young man
with calloused hands
and dirty feet.

He looked me in the eye and said,
“Sir, please.
Please, we need a room.
We have no money.
We have nowhere to go.
And my wife . . . she’s pregnant.”

I say I’m not a good man,
but I do try.
Truth is, I want to help people.
That’s the whole reason
I got into this business in the first place.
But what do you do
when the problem is so big?

You help this person over here,
but then there’s someone over there
who needs your help, too.
Where is God in all of this?

That’s why I focus on business.
Business I understand.
With business I can take care of myself . . .
. . . (sigh) but I want to care for others, too.

So, I looked at him and said,
“Look, son, I’m out of room.
There are no more beds.
But . . . there’s a stable out back.
You can sleep there for the night.”

He looked at me
like I had given him
a hundred shekels
in pure silver.

He grinned ear to ear and said,
“Oh, thank you, sir.
We won’t forget this!
God bless you,”
and off they went around the bend.

You know, the funny thing is
that on the really busy nights,
I can never go to sleep.
When the place is full, I get restless.

Plus, that night there were
strange happenings all around.
Meteors in the sky.
A hum in the air.
Things just crackled that night.

But finally, by about the sixth hour,
I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I flung the covers and went down to see.
“Check on the animals,” I thought,
“I’m just going out to check on the animals.”

But for whatever reason,
I knew I was really checking on them.
It was like something was calling to me.

As I made my was down to the stable,
everything that night was so
quiet, and bright, and warm.

Quietly, quietly, I opened the door,
and before I could stop myself
I burst into tears and exclaimed,
“It’s . . . a . . . BOY!!”

Oh, what a mess, what a mess.
The mother—that poor girl—was exhausted,
fast asleep, curled up to the side.

And the father, that brave young man,
was sitting against the wall
with the baby propped against his knees.

“What do you need?” I asked.
“What can I do?”
I am in the hospitality business, after all.

He looked up at me with those weary eyes.
“Would you like to hold him?” he asked.

“Ohhh,” I said, “Yes. Yes. Here, here, here.
You give him to me.
You rest, young man. It’s fine.
He’s perfectly safe . . . here . . . with me.”

I’m not a good man.
And when I say that,
what I mean is
I’m not as good
as I wish I were.

The world’s a hard place,
and it’s easy to let your heart grow hard, too.

But in those quiet hours
as I held that little boy,
it’s like . . . it’s like I could
hear the voice of God
for the first time in my life.

It’s like he was telling me that
for all the good I lacked,
somehow he was preparing
to make up the difference.

For all my sins that I could not forget—
all the things I’ve done and left undone,
all the things for which I am not proud—
he would find a way to forgive.

For all the people that I cannot help,
he was going to save them all.

You know what I realized that night?
I’m not a good man,
and this world is hard.

But what’s needed
is not more business,
more taxes,
more hardened hearts.

What’s needed is healing.
What’s needed is forgiveness.
What’s needed is love.

And you know what?

I believe
love came down to us
that very night . . .

. . . and it has come
to stay.