In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7
There is a beautiful story that comes out of the Treasury of Jewish humor about a family from the lower east side of New York City. The younger members of the family try very hard to educate their immigrant parents. Part of this endeavor takes the form of a family trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the son and daughter interpret various paintings to the mother and father.
During the afternoon in the gallery, the party comes to a nativity scene. The father points to Joseph in the picture, “Is Papa?”
“Yes, that’s the father.” Then he points to Mary.
“Yes,” the daughter replies.
“Vas de cows and donkey?”
The daughter explains: “The baby was born in a stable – they were poor peasant people and could not get into the inn.”
“Ahh!” said the father, “Just like Gentiles! Too poor for a room, but still they get their picture taken!”
Perhaps there is no verse in the Gospel narrative so clearly prophetic of the whole life and ministry of Jesus as the short, cryptic words of Luke: “There was no room in the inn.”
Have you ever had one of those Christmas seasons where you struggle to find that magical Christmas spirit? You pull out all your favorite Christmas albums and watch the Hallmark channel on your television because the day after Thanksgiving there are non-stop Christmas specials. Undoubtedly one of those will help you find that elusive Christmas joy. But alas to no avail, there is no room in your heart this year for Jesus. In this post why don’t we examine what may be preventing you from having a joyous Christmas?
Preoccupation is one possible culprit. Mary and Joseph were shut out; all the rooms were occupied. Every space was already filled.
We can have some sympathy for the innkeeper. He was not a mean man.
A pastor friend Barry reminds us of some key misunderstandings of in this story. “The word used in the original text is kataluma and is best understood as a “guest room,” not a type of commercial inn used for travelers. For that type of lodging Luke uses the word pandokheion. Additionally, Bethlehem was Joseph’s “hometown” and he likely had relatives to stay with.
Even more to the point, very few people would want to give birth in a type of public motel. Inns at that time did not have a good reputation and Mary would have wanted privacy for such an intimate event.
Furthermore, a close reading of the text reveals that Joseph and Mary had been in Bethlehem for a number of days before her birth.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. (Luke 2:4-6)”
Preoccupation is the thing that gets into the heart first. We don’t intend to leave Jesus out of our lives. We don’t have anything against Jesus, but others things have taken up residency early. It is painfully dull to get so preoccupied, that other matters more pressing filled up all the space. These things are important. They are our work, our social life, and our family responsibilities. “The heart is full; I tell you, Jesus! There’s no room!”
But all is not lost! The holy family beds down in a cave where the animals are kept. A poet put it this way.
The innkeeper says:
I only did what you have done
a thousand times or more,
When Joseph came to Bethlehem
and knocked upon my door;
I did not turn the Christ away
or leave him there bereft.
Like you, I only gave to him
whatever I had left.
How close to home that strikes!
Another reason there was no room was that nobody there recognized the importance of the moment. That’s familiar, too.
Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote these, “If we had been the shepherds one night long ago, I wonder if we’d recognize the star or if we’d know the reason for His birth and if we’d actually go to worship at the manger. I wonder, would we know? Is it really any different than if Jesus came today? I wonder, would we recognize His face in any way? Or would we turn away from Him not knowing what to say? If Jesus walked among us in our hurried, busy pace, I wonder if this stranger would actually find a place?”
We are impressed with shiny things. We marvel at greatness. And we expect fame to come clothed with glitz and glamor. When majesty comes from humble beginnings, we question whether or not the individual is even worth our time. We expect that when God’s one and only unique Son enters the world that it would have to be a must-see worldwide event. It must be impressive when he comes. After all, the world had waited over 2,000 years for the blessed event. Our thoughts and God’s thoughts about greatness are incompatible. God uses a manger and straw, peasants and donkey, a woman heavy with child, and a small hotel in a sleepy little, insignificant town off the beaten path. What makes God’s coming so ordinary, so unspectacular that we meet that coming with insensitivity. We dismiss it as not worth our time to stop and recognize the significance of that entry into the world. How often we shut him out, not able to appreciate the beauty in the simplicity of the humble birth. Think about how the flash would have taken away from the substance. It was not about how Jesus arrived; the focus should be on the why He came. To save the world from its sin. He reached out to me, and He came for you. So, won’t you stop this Christmas season and find room for Jesus? We must make room.
The story of the Bethlehem Inn reminds us once again about preoccupation, about being unaware. And the innkeeper calls to our attention the importance of opening the door when the knock comes.
Christmas is coming again. What shall we do this year – just keep Christmas, or make room?
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