Pastor Clifford S. Stewart of Louisville, Kentucky, sent his parents a microwave oven one Christmas. Here’s how he recalls the experience: “They were excited that now they, too, could be a part of the instant generation. When Dad unpacked the microwave, and plugged it in, literally within seconds, the microwave transformed two smiles into a frown! Even after reading the directions, they couldn’t make it work. “Two days later, my mother was playing bridge with a friend and confessed her inability to get that microwave oven even to boil water. ‘To get this darn thing to work,’ she exclaimed, ‘I really don’t need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift!'” When God gave the gift of salvation, he didn’t send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out; he sent his Son. – The Greatest Gift sermon, 17 Dec. 2016
When it comes to Christmas, there was something else beyond preoccupation and ignorance. Inhospitality. There were those in Christ’s day who looked him over, listened to him, and when they sensed what he was saying, only said: “No thank you! I don’t have room for you!”
There was no room in the synagogue at Nazareth – they threw him out. During this past year, we have seen such racial, and political division such inhospitality, have we forgotten that all people, regardless of their color or political views are equal in God’s sight? People today are not very hospitable to that idea, just look at the unrest around the world.
There was no room in the Temple. Jesus came to disrupt the status quo. He began to shake up the comfortable. And you can’t go around overturning the tables of the high priest’s concession stands and expect to have hospitality among those in power.
There was no room in Israel. We don’t welcome people who turn our comfortable lives on their head. Jesus was accused of not playing by the rules, of inciting riots, conducting rallies and engaging in subversive talk. With the Romans breathing down their necks the religious leaders felt threatened. The Jewish people were under the heavy rule of the Roman Empire. So, it was the common practice to try to get by through getting along. Don’t make waves. Be patient and wait for the deliverer to come. Because when the Messiah shows up, He will deliver the nation from the rule of Rome and free the people from the arrogant tyranny of a dictatorship. The people were obsessed with that issue; it was always at the forefront of their minds. They were not at all united on how that would be accomplished, but they all believed that something had to be done.
A large faction, called Zealots, thought the only way was to resist, fight and kill. Sounds like some in society today. They were in a quandary for a while, wondering if Jesus could be the promised king who would provide the kind of strong leadership necessary to lead the revolution. They would have made Him king if he even indicated that He was ready to take the mantle and run with the movement. But Jesus had other plans, a different mission. Jesus saw the problem of power and passion. He knew that hatred was not a proper solution. You must love all people; Jesus said, even your enemy. If he compels you to go one mile, go two. You must get started with something constructive to get out of the everlasting vortex of hatred. If you resist evil with evil, you will be destroyed by evil.
Well, they were in no mood to welcome that! They shut him out. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” There was no room for his kind.
The story continues. We do not need to belabor the point. All too well, we recognize that even in countries where Christ is loudly praised, in nations where the public holiday is made of his birth, there is not much room for him, at least not down in the dark currents of life where real decisions are made about real issues.
The late David Roberts said that if he could have anticipated Bethlehem, his first temptation would have been to cry out: “O Gentle Son of God, don’t come here! Don’t come into such a world. This is no place for you. This is no place for someone who cares nothing for money, prestige, or power. You don’t fit in here—it will destroy you. This kind of world will crush you, break your heart. Don’t come! You don’t belong.”
But then, he went on to say that, on second thought, as the years roll by, we can’t get rid of the haunting realization that Christ is the one who actually belongs. We are the misfits whose ugly passions and unholy lives are out of touch with reality. We are the strange ones with distorted images of what humanity was meant to be.
The encouragement of Christmas is that the light of Christ is still shining in the dark and that the future belongs to the light. With the darkness of every tragic human blunder, the contrast of the light grows clearer. The light of Christ is the real thing, and we must make room for it in our business, in our politics, in our education, in our homes, and in our personal lives. And we must do it soon.
We never find room. We must make room.
The story of the Bethlehem Inn reminds us once again about preoccupation, about being unaware, and about inhospitality to the highest. And the innkeeper calls to our attention the importance of opening the door when the knock comes.
It is coming again. What shall we do this year – just keep Christmas, or make room?
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