Because Of Bethlehem: There Is Room For Us All
Scripture: Luke 2: 1-20
Date: December 24, 2017. Christmas Eve
There are so many things about the Christmas Season that I love. Things that I try to do every year to help get in the “Christmas spirit”. One of the things I love to do is to drive around and look at all the lights that people have used to decorate their homes for Christmas. Now I confess that I am very picky when it comes to light displays. For instance I am not a big fan of the big, inflatable decorations. Giant Santas and reindeer and other figures. And it’s not so much how they look inflated that bothers me as much as what they look like when they are not inflated. Just lying there in the yard in a heap. Looks like someone came through with a giant pin and popped them, taking the wind right out of our Christmas celebration. And I am not a big fan of Christmas light displays that mix the messages of the season. You know the ones that have Santa’s workshop right next to the Stable of Bethlehem, sending the message that we could easily interchange the roll of Santa’s elves with that of the Shepherds in the Christmas story. And don’t get me started on the displays that have Santa kneeling at the manger. Now before I offend everyone tonight, let me hasten to say that these are my quirks. Most do not judge Christmas light displays based upon their theological correctness, but rather their joy and beauty and fun. So I try and withhold my judgment and just try to enjoy because as someone that loves to decorate I always appreciate the time and effort that people put into these displays. And, of course, there are must see displays every year. It wouldn’t be Christmas without spending at least one evening at the Kentucky Horse Park driving through the Southern Lights. And there is this house on Chinoe not too far from here that is a must see. And there’s one on Mt. McKinley Way that is certainly worth the drive by. And the Firehouse out on Harrodsburg Road with the light show coordinated to the music is always amazing to me. A lot of folks go way beyond the norm in conveying their Christmas spirit. But here’s the most troubling thing for me – it’s all the houses that remain dark during the Christmas season. Now I know that just because people don’t decorate outside doesn’t mean they don’t celebrate Christmas at all. But the fact that so many houses remain dark, reminds me that there are a lot of people who are missing Christmas. Now as we have moved through this Advent season we have been thinking about those who came to Bethlehem to see the baby that had just been born. And if you think about it, it was a very exclusive group. There were the shepherds and the wisemen and the Angels. And that was it. And though there is much we can learn from these, I suspect that there is much we can learn from those who didn’t come. Those who missed Jesus. You see for many the most important words in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story is the line that we often take for granted. But for many it is the part of the story that best describes their experience of Christmas. Luke says simply that “there was no room for them in the inn”. Think about how many did not have “room” for Jesus that first Christmas. Take the Inn Keeper for instance. Now scripture doesn’t specifically mention an inn keeper. He or she is only there by implication. After all there had to be someone who told Joseph and Mary that there was no room for them. And there is some debate about what kind of an establishment Luke is talking about. Was it an inn that was a commercial establishment? Or as some scholars suggest simply the guest room of the house of one of Joseph’s relatives. Either way, we are probably talking about one large room where many people would stay rather than individual rooms. But both of these would need a gatekeeper and tradition has identified that person as the innkeeper. The innkeeper missed Jesus that night. He or she turned away Mary and Joseph and the unborn Messiah because simply there was no room for them. But what scripture doesn’t say is that had the innkeeper found a place in the guest room for Mary in particular, and she had given birth, then everyone staying there would have been made spiritually unclean. According to the law, just being present at the birth of a child, even in the same room, rendered you spiritually unclean. So according to the law, as long as there was anyone present in the guest room that did not choose to be there, spiritually there would have been no room for Mary. There was no place for Mary to give birth where she could have been away from everyone else. There was no room in the Jewish law for the birth of Jesus. And then, of course, scripture implies that because so many people had come to Bethlehem for the Census, physically there was no room for them. Either way the innkeeper missed the Messiah, because he had no room for Jesus that night. Perhaps The innkeeper was acting as a guardian of the faith. Trying to protect everyone else from Jesus. It is interesting to me that the only persons that came to the manger that night were those who would have already been considered unclean by the Priests and Rabbis. The ones for whom there was no room in Jewish society, no room in the Temple. We have persons today who (perhaps like the innkeeper). believe it is their role to protect us from Jesus, from the Christian faith. Could it be that the inn was not the only thing that was too full to welcome Jesus. Perhaps the innkeeper was implying that our hearts – our lives are too full to welcome Jesus. And that makes me wonder how many times I miss Jesus because I can’t make room for Him in my heart or my life or even my faith. My life is filled with other things – maybe good things like jobs and careers and family or just being busy. Or maybe the heart of the innkeeper and those who filled the inn that night were full of fear and misery and sin. They had no room for hope. They had no room for a Savior. They were just trying to get by in a harsh and cruel world. Survival filled their thoughts, not salvation. You see, often, the world fills up our hearts and lives with so many things. We have to keep busy, occupied, on the go from place to place. We’re busy getting our kids to all of their activities and practices, or we have just one more task to complete at work, one more paper to write, project to grade, one more party to attend, and . . And . . and . . and. We are so busy – rarely home and when we are it’s just a respite before the next destination. And so we are too full to welcome Jesus into our hearts and lives. And so when Joseph taps on the door of the little inn, he is not welcomed with open arms. He is turned away. Sorry Jesus. We are full of the world. We are full of our fears. Our misery. Even our sin. There’s no room for you. Even though it is in those times when we need to welcome Jesus the most. In his busyness, in his struggle to just survive, the innkeeper missed the true nature of this couple and unborn child. He missed Jesus. It is so easy to miss Jesus in the hustle and bustle of life. To not have room for Him, even in this Advent/Christmas season.
But it wasn’t just the innkeeper that didn’t have room for Jesus. King Herod didn’t have any room. He was so busy trying to live up to his nickname, “Herod the Great”, that He couldn’t allow for another King of the Jews. Even if He was just a boy. Herod was so filled with pride, and jealousy and fear – so eaten up with the lust for power and acclaim no matter how ruthless he had to be to achieve it, that he had “no room” for Jesus. In fact, he viewed Jesus as a threat to everything he had tried to build. There was room for only one King of the Jews. And so not only did he turn Him away, He tried to kill the baby. Sometimes we have no room for Jesus in the midst of our ambitions and our dreams of fame and prosperity and success and all the other intangibles by which the world judges our lives.
And then the religious leaders had no room for Jesus. The Priests and Pharisees had waited for centuries for the Messiah to come, but when He did come He didn’t meet their expectations of a great warrior riding out of the darkness to restore the light to Israel. The Messiah can’t be a baby. What good would a baby do in the face of the Roman oppressors. They had no room in their faith, no room in the church, for a Messiah who came not to conquer but rather to sacrifice. No room in their expectations. I wonder how many times we miss Jesus because He doesn’t meet our expectations of what God ought to be doing in the midst of our life.
And then there were all of the people who swelled the population of Bethlehem that night. Bitter and angry that the government had made them travel all this way just to be counted so that they could be taxed at more than the 80% rate they were already paying. Their hearts and lives were filled with hatred and sorrow and anxiety and fear. There was so much darkness in their life that they were blinded to the star, the great light, that came and settled over them. Many of them had given up on the hope of a Messiah who would come to save them and instead they talked of insurrection and war. Of saving themselves. They didn’t want a God to come and dwell with them in their misery. They wanted a God who would rise above the misery of their lives and lift them up out of it. They had no room for Jesus in their troubled lives. I wonder how many will miss Jesus this Christmas, not because He has not come, but because our hearts and lives are filled with so much of the world – fear, hatred, grief, pride, jealousy, sin – so full of ourselves that we have no room left to welcome a baby. Even when He stands at the door and knocks and seeks shelter in the midst of our lives. In His own words, “I stand at the door and knock and if anyone opens the door I will come in and dwell with you forever.” But how many will let this Christmas pass without ever opening the door because there is “no room” in our lives for Jesus.
And I wonder how many others will go through this Christmas hearing the words, “sorry there is no room for you” in our Christmas. But the good news of Christmas is that God came anyway, into a world that was overcrowded with a lot of stuff, that seemingly had no room for Him, Jesus still came, a baby was born. And because of that, because of Bethlehem, there is room for us all. So many years after Bethlehem, Jesus remembered His mother telling Him that there was “no room” for them that night and He said to His Disciples, “In my Father’s Inn there are many rooms. And I am preparing one for you. And I will come and get you when it’s ready and welcome you in. And we will dwell together forever.” All because of Bethlehem. All because our God for whom there was no room, came anyway. And opened up eternity for all who have been told in one way or another, that there is “no room” for them in the inn.
You have probably heard some of the humorous stories of Christmas pageants that have gone so wrong. But I remember reading about one put on in an elementary school, in which the kids acted out the Christmas story, and what seemed to be so wrong turned out to be so right. It began when the teacher in charge chose a third grader by the name of Robbie to play the roll of the innkeeper. He was a poor kid and a loner. Not real bright. A special needs student. Robbie rarely said anything in class. And the teacher knew that he was often made fun of and bullied by some of the older kids. And so everyone was surprised when the teacher chose Robbie for a a part in the play. And everyone assumed that he would be cast as one of the faceless, nameless and voiceless shepherds. Or perhaps one of the barnyard animal. But instead the teacher cast him as the innkeeper and entrusted him with one of the pivotal lines of the play. “Oh the play is ruined” some said. Robbie will never get his line right. There are so many others that could have been cast in that role. There just isn’t room for Robbie. But the teacher insisted on Robbie and finally the night of the play came and things were going well. And then Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem and Joseph knocked on the door of the Inn, and Robbie went to answer the knock. And the boy playing Joseph carefully explained that he and his betrothed had made the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and that Mary was “heavy” with child and about to deliver. They desperately needed somewhere to spend the night. And then the trouble started. Joseph was the first to go off script. He added to his lines “We have tried everywhere but no one has room for us. Is there room for us here. We have no place else to go.” And Robbie was obviously confused by Joseph’s ad lib and he looked at Joseph and Mary, and then back into the inn and finally at the audience. Everyone held their breath. And then Robbie the innkeeper said, “Sure come on in. We’ll make room.” And so, not knowing what else to do, Joseph and Mary stepped into the inn. And as they stood there all the other children in the cast. Townspeople, angels and Shepherds and Kings, came from all over the stage and back stage and welcomed Joseph and Mary to the inn. Well the audience sat in stunned silence at the turn that the pageant had taken, and in the silence one of the older boys who was dressed as a king, one of those that had bullied Robbie, looked over to where he was still standing, half in and half out of the door, and while everyone watched, he walked over to Robbie, and he put his arms around his shoulders and he said in a booming voice to Robbie, “Come on in. We’ve got room for you too.” And with that the audience burst out in laughter and then tears and then wild applause. And then each one turned to the person next to them, stranger and friend alike, and they hugged one another with an embrace that said, “We’ve got room for you too.” And the joyous news we proclaim tonight, we celebrate tonight is that Because of Bethlehem, because there was no room for Jesus but He came anyway, there is always room for all of us, not just for tonight, but forever and ever. In God’s inn there is a place for you and me, no matter what the world may try to tell us. So here’s what I want you to do right now. Stand and turn to those around you and say to one another. Because of Bethlehem – there is a place for you. Hallelujah, Merry Christmas, Amen.