December 23, 2009

No Room?

Our pastor tried to describe what that first Christmas might have been like. He said because of the census that required people to come to their birth city, Bethlehem must have had more visitors than usual. He said it may not have been that “silent night” we sing about. Instead, “It could have been busier than West Edmonton Mall on Boxing Day.”

Everyone laughed. Most of us have experienced (at least once) that wall-to-wall mob of people all jostling for bargains. This image puts a different spin on our image of that little town of Bethlehem and the silence we tend to think prevailed. 

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
Pastor also reminded us that a manger is a feeding trough. Nativity paintings and cards depict it as a cradle with straw, but it was more likely a rough wood container shaped something like a shoe box, and not exactly the most comfortable place to put a baby. Yet it was the only place that Mary and Joseph had.

Writers make up stories about the inn keeper saying that he offered them a place in the stable out of sympathy. The Bible says nothing about him. Obviously he turned them away because his inn was full. They might have found a barn, stable, or a cliff-side hole used for animals on their own. Any late-night trip through an unfamiliar city with “no vacancy” on all the hotels and motels would produce a similar sense of desperation. Add to that labor pains increasing in intensity and frequency, and I can hardly imagine the stress that this couple was feeling.

While the stable may have been warmer than a room in an unheated inn, nevertheless Jesus was born in a smelly place. He was too little to notice what was going on (assuming that the incarnation included the weakness of being an infant). However, His mother wrapped Him in strips of cloth and took care of His needs.

Flash forward. Does He notice today what Christmas is like? Does He notice that many homes, never mind the inns and crowded malls, have no interest in Him? Does He watch when cities and governing bodies refuse nativity scenes? Does He feel dismay that people go through the celebrating of Christmas with wild parties and have no idea what this holy day is about?

I read of a newspaper that did man-on-the-street interviews asking people their opinions of the real meaning of Christmas. The article said that some were sentimental and said Christmas is a family time, a time for children, and being together. Others were more humanistic and thought that Christmas is a time to celebrate love for one’s fellow man and the spirit of giving. Others were insensitive and hedonistic. They thought Christmas was just another excuse to have a party. In all the interviews, no one mentioned the miracle of God’s birth as a human baby, the wonder that God Himself came to earth because of His great love for us.

Jesus was born in a lowly place. The inn, a place of commerce and busy with people, had no room for Him. There is significance in this because it is the same today. The busy, worldly people do not have time for Him. Only the lowly and humble are open to the Christmas child, but He has to find them just as His parents had to find a place for His birth.

When Jesus grew to manhood, He explained the reason that few open their hearts to Him. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick . . . For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).

How is this practical for my life? First, I must never think that I am “well” and do not need His soul-healing power. I must listen for His call and repent of any sin that I allow into my life. As Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”

Obviously, making room for Jesus is more than a priority. It is a lifestyle. He is the center of everything, the One who directs my thoughts, decisions, words, and actions. If I’m filled with me-me-me, having more stuff, dominating others, etc. then I am no different than the innkeeper or the mobs of shoppers who have no idea who Jesus is or what Christmas is all about.

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