Note: The following sermon was delivered August 31, 2014, at the Virginia Scottish Games Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service.
Reading of Scripture
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 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, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 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. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
To answer the question on everyone’s mind: Yes, I realize I just read the Christmas story on what is supposed to be the hottest day of August. And you might wonder why I did it. Well, to be honest, I love Christmas. Without Christmas – without the birth of Christ – there’s no fulfilling of prophesy. Without the fulfilling of prophesy, there’s no announcement in the angel chorus; there’s no shepherds, no manger, and no wise men. There’s no young Jesus baffling the teachers of the law with His wisdom. There’s no turning of water into wine. There’s no calling of disciples. There’s no healing, no casting out of demons, no walking on water, no raising of the dead, no compassion, no love, and no forgiveness. Without the birth of Christ, there is no death of Christ. And without the death of Christ, there is no raising of Christ from the dead. And without a risen Christ, there is no victory over sin and death. And without victory over sin and death, there is … no hope for the likes of you and me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. …
To borrow from Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” And if it wasn’t the worst of times, then it was at least a very inconvenient time. Caesar Augustus had called for a census, and nobody in those days told Caesar Augustus “No” and lived to tell the tale. He was filed in the history books under “Cruel and Unusual,” with one historian noting that nary a day went by in his reign without someone being sentenced to death. Kinda gives a whole new meaning to taking a census and “counting heads.”
So Joseph, a righteous man with a pregnant fiancé, traveled to Bethlehem and, even though Mary’s time was near, was unable to find room in the inn. And I often wondered as I grew up, “Which inn?” I often imagined the cruel innkeeper’s heart wavering for just a moment as he looked at the distress on Mary’s face, quickly dismissing the couple with a wave of his hand and a “go sleep in the barn,” before slamming the door behind him. And I used to be so mad at the innkeeper.
But then, as I grew older, I began to reason it out. Thousands of people were probably crammed into Bethlehem, and the prime rooms went to the highest bidder. And, let’s face it, on a carpenter’s salary, well, rooms just weren’t in Joseph and Mary’s future.
And then, as I grew even older and began to read, I discovered the Christmas myth. There is no innkeeper. Not in Scripture, anyway. Not in the context of the story. It simply says, “there was no place for them in the inn.” No callous rejection. No cruelty involved. They simply couldn’t find room.
So why the innkeeper? Why do we envision that? Why do we write it into Christmas plays for children? Maybe we need someone to be mad at for forcing our Lord and Savior to be born in a stinky ol’ stable. But you know what? How could we truly be mad at an innkeeper, even if one had been mentioned? Scripture never says that Joseph told them that the child was royalty of the highest order; that He was the King of kings; that they would call His name Immanuel, God with us. Joseph didn’t play that card.
Because seriously, who wouldn’t have given him the best room in the inn? If I were an innkeeper, He could have had the best room. He could have had mine. If you were the innkeeper, wouldn’t you have given Him the best room?
Sure we would. But we know something the innkeeper didn’t know. We know who Jesus is. So of course we’d be happy to give Him our best room. And that’s what’s so disturbing about Jesus. … He doesn’t want it. … He wants our worst room.
Modern-day Christianity is all about us asking Jesus into our hearts, and unlike the innkeeper, we’re all too happy to invite Him into the best room in our hearts, but that’s not where He wants to be. The Christ who was born in a filthy stall was quite at home there. The Christ who lived life in a carpenter’s home in relative poverty was quite content there. And the Savior Who died to cleanse our hearts won’t be content to be invited only into the brightest corners. He wants access to our darkest rooms as well.
His life on Earth began with a knock on the door and a denial of access. And Revelation 3:20 tells us that that’s still the way He operates. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Let me into your worst room, and I will dine with you, no matter how dark and dirty the room may be. … And how horrible for those of us who know Who He is to answer Him and say, “Sorry, Lord. There’s no room in the inn.”
No, no, no. Let’s not let history repeat itself. … Today, on the hottest day in August, I say, let Him in. Let Him in! Let today be Christmas in our hearts!
Cross posted at our sister blog, Be Spent. Click here to go there.