The Spirit of Christmas

December 22, 2008 · Print This Article

No Room In The Inn
The Spirit of Christmas

The Word

Text: Luke 2:1-14; (15-20)

     Wally was big for his age–seven years old. Everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. Especially considering the fact that, he was also a slow learner. Perhaps he could pull the curtain. To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy of course was delighted. After all, all he had to learn was one line: “There is no room in the inn.” He had that down in no time.
     Then came the night for the program. The parents took their places. Every seat in the auditorium was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on Scene One. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?” Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all night.  He began, there is and he hesitated. He started over again. There is. . .and again his mind went completely blank. Everyone was embarrassed for him but poor Wally just didn’t know what to do. Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward the stable on stage left. Seeing him walking away Wally in desperation called out: “Look, there’s plenty of room at my house, just come on home with me.”
     That seems a rather delightful twist on a familiar story. Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. The issues all seem so clear cut. Herod was a villain and the wise men were heroes. The shepherds were heroes and the Innkeeper–well, the poor innkeeper has gone down as one of the heavies in the story. In our minds eye, we envision him as a crotchety old man with a night cap on his head sticking his head out a second story window and tersely shouting: Take the stable and leave me alone.
     But perhaps the innkeeper has received bad press. Preachers over the centuries have had a field day with the poor fellow. But was it his fault that the inn was built with twelve rooms instead of thirteen? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving?
     But you know something; this simple little statement about there being no room in the Inn becomes a symbol for Luke. As he writes his gospel it almost becomes a theme. Luke takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and shows us how this phrase was recurrent throughout Jesus’ ministry. The question that Luke leaves for us is–will there ever be any room for him?
     There was no room for Jesus in the economic world.  Luke records that one-day Jesus and the disciples stepped off a boat at Gadara. A mad man, screaming wildly and tearing at himself, suddenly approached them. Jesus walked up to the man and asked his name. “I am legion, for we are many,” came the response. He was right. This poor, tormented man was so confused, pulled in so many different directions, that he was no longer one personality but many. Jesus then commanded the demons to come out of this man and into a nearby herd of swine. The pigs immediately stampeded and ran off a cliff and were killed.   The man was healed!

     But what was the response of the community. Did they sing praise God from whom all blessings flow? Did they cry out Praise be to Jesus? Did they build a hospital in the community and name it after the Nazarene?  No, none of these things. What they did was to send a committee to Jesus and kindly ask him to get out of town. You see, they weren’t so concerned about that poor demoniac man. He had been around so many years that he had simply become a part of the landscape. But what really got to them was the fact that Jesus destroyed a herd of swine to heal him. That was hitting them right where it hurt–in the pocket book. It was quite clear to them that if Jesus stayed around the local economy would be disrupted. What they wanted was business as usual and not some itinerant miracle worker.
     So the local delegation asks Jesus to kindly leave. Exactly how they worded this to him we don’t know, but I would like to venture a guess. I suspect that the conversation went something like this: Jesus, our lives were doing quite well before you came into town. We don’t think that we need you, and we know that we don’t want you. So Jesus, do us a favor and go try to save the world in some other place. We have to work too hard to fool around with a do-gooder. You see, there was just no room for Jesus in the economic world.
     There was no room for Jesus in the legal realm. The law was cut and dried. It had been codified centuries earlier–all the way back to Moses. The law was clear. And I don’t doubt that some of them said that tired old cliché “They may not be good rules but they’re all that we have.” One of those laws read: Whosoever commits adultery shall be stoned to death. There it was in black and white. It was even one of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery. They came down harder on the enforcement of this law (at least on women) than any other. But so be it. It was the law. The penalty was death by stoning. There were no loopholes.  No plea-bargaining!
     Thus when the crowd brought to Jesus a woman one day who had clearly been caught in the act, they were ill-prepared for his response. He refused to join their little lynch mob. Didn’t he know the Torah? Oh yes, he knew it, But he also knew something about grace. And that was higher than the law–even the great Law of Moses. The crowd was astonished to say the least. They dropped their stones and walked away but you had better believe that they didn’t like it one bit. A person who has had his mind changed against his will is a person whose mind hasn’t changed. They didn’t do anything about it right away. They were just biding their time. Jesus had said in effect: people are more important than rules. They didn’t buy that for one minute. To them the law was the law and it was clear that there was simply no place for Jesus in this whole matter.
     There was no room for Jesus in the realm of the religious order. That may sound strange but it was true. People like Annas and Ciaphas already had all of the high positions that were available. Israel had all the high priests that they needed and then some. Who was this new man on the scene who called himself teacher, rabbi.  Where did he go to seminary? Who were his parents? Where does he get his authority?
     Nowhere is there any hint that the chief priests were accommodating to him. They didn’t stretch out their arms and welcome Jesus into their clerical profession. In fact, they did everything they could to keep him out; they weren’t about to adjust their comfortable life styles and position in the community because of the claims of Jesus. But it went far deeper than that. They earnestly thought that he was wrong and it was their duty to oppose him. They organized themselves and like politics, religion can also create some strange bedfellows. Their plan climaxed when Jesus was hanging on a cross at Calvary. There was just no room for Jesus in the world of the ecclesiastical.
     There was no room for Jesus in the world of politics. Oh, the people wanted him to be King. Some of his disciples became so enthusiastic that they even asked him (prematurely though it was) for positions when he came into power. But Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules. He told them that his Kingdom was not of this world. When he rode into Jerusalem and walked into the temple on Palm Sunday, the crowd was prepared for a coronation ceremony. But Jesus disappointed them once again. He refused to play the game of politics: I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. He shunned the smoke filled rooms and spent his time with people who did not have their hands on the levers of power in society. Oh, they gave him a popular mandate all right. They all agreed that he should be crucified. So his earthly crown was exchanged for a crown of thorns. There was just no room for Jesus in the world of politics.

     In Economic, legal, religious, and political realms–wherever Jesus turned there was no room for him. What began first in Bethlehem when the innkeeper turned him away was to become a recurrent theme. Let’s look at us today–to you and to me. Do we have room for Christ in our lives? When the innkeeper was presented with this unexpected situation that night, he faced what I call our universal dilemma. At that point he became every man. Every man is asked: Do you have room for the Messiah?
     The fact is that the Messiah comes knocking at the door of our hearts many times in life, in various ways, through various people, in various events. Well, you say, I am not a preacher and I am not a theologian. How am I supposed to recognize these times? That’s precisely the point. You are given no more preparation for revelation than the innkeeper that night. He was just an ordinary layman like you. He could have said: If I had only known that this was the Messiah I would have gladly opened the door. But if he had known that, he would have responded out of awe, fear, or courtesy not out of compassion. So the Messiah comes to us just as he came to the Bethlehem innkeeper. Not in the form of a King with his entire splendor, but in the form of people in need–like Mary and Joseph. And whether or not we receive Christ in depends on how we respond to these people.
     The innkeeper claimed that he had no room. Isn’t the crowded inn a rather appropriate symbol of our lives? So cluttered (not with important things but with things that don’t amount to a hill of beans) that there is just no time, no energy, no money, no room left over. There is just no room in our lives for the Messiah.
     And invariably, just as in Bethlehem, the Messiah comes to us when we so often least expect him. You’ll notice that Mary and Joseph did not make their appearance at the beginning of the rush season but late in the night when the poor innkeeper was tired and irritable after a hard day’s work.  Then comes’ the knock on the door the unexpected knock of destiny.
     So the advent message to us is to watch and wait. Keep our minds and our hearts open for his coming. For the hour approaches when Messiah will come to you and to me. And like the Bethlehem innkeeper we will be forced to make a decision. Will our lives be so cluttered with incidentals that there will be no room for God? Or will we open the door and gladly welcome him in. To the innkeeper, the knock that came that night was just another of a long series of bothersome interruptions. That is how some respond to God in their life. Yes. Take the stable! Do anything; just leave me alone. God knocks at the door of every person. The question is–will there be room enough in your life to let him in?



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