Scripture Reading: Luke 2.1-7
No room at the inn?
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
‘…there was no room for them to stay in the inn’.
Those last words of our Bible reading tonight are terrible words. There is no room for a woman, who has travelled a long way, and who is about to give birth. No room for her faithful husband, who has come all from Nazareth with her, because the Emperor Augustus demanded it. No room for the child who is born, not even a place to lay him- just an animal feeding trough.
It’s nice to romanticise the Christmas story. We like to imagine Mary might have had a donkey to ride, but the story doesn’t mention any donkey. We like to imagine the baby snug in the straw, but a manger is hardly the cleanest place to put a newborn. We like to imagine animals kneeling to worship, but if there were any animals at the back of the inn, they were likely grumpy at being disturbed, smelly, liable to bump into the new mum and dad and their baby at any time.
‘…there was no room for them to stay in the inn’.
Here is the creator of the universe coming to earth in human form. But there is no room for him. He is laid in a manger- no nice government Scandinavian baby for Jesus and Mary. He is shoved round the back for the inn is full up.
But maybe that is the point. No room at the inn tells us that this Christ is going to be the one for all for whom there is no room. For in any country, in any community, there are people who feel as if there is no room for them. The people for whom the rest of us are too heartless to make any room. No room for the rough sleeper, who for whatever reasons, we can’t find a place for anywhere. No room for the families with children who we cannot seem to find houses for, just bed and breakfast accommodation. No room any more for the immigrants from the European Union, who came here to make a home and contribute to society, but who now feel unwelcome in a country they had called home. No room for the refugees, traumatized by war and dangerous journeys, treated as a threat when they got to what they thought was a safe place. No room at the inn for any of them, and for many others.
In the Christmas story, the Christ child is one of those for whom there is no room. In the Christmas stories of Matthew’s Gospel, this becomes even more the case. That’s the version with King Herod murdering all the children in the town of Bethlehem, causing Mary and Joseph to flee into Egypt until it is safe to return- so Jesus spends the first few years of his life a refugee in a foreign country. And as he grows, he will always be an outsider. His preaching upsets the religious establishment. He isn’t a Pharisee, or a Sadducee- he doesn’t’ fit into any party. Eventually, he becomes the ultimate outsider- a criminal, executed because he seems like a danger to the peace. There was no room for him.
In Christ, God identifies with all who find themselves as outsiders- those for whom there seems to be no room for them. And so Christmas is a time for us not just to celebrate, but to be challenged. Are there people we have no room for, people we send into the shed, while we are cosy and comfortable in the inn? Can’t we treat other fellow humans better than that?
And when God comes to us- do we make room? This is the point at which we preachers make an appeal to you to make some room in your lives for Christ this Christmas. And preachers complain that our increasingly secular culture, and our increasingly busy lives, people squeezing God out- you’re not making room for God. But, in fairness, it’s hard. We are not living in an age or a place which takes God seriously. We don’t talk about God much, we don’t think the concept of God is important for art, culture, politics, morality. God really is an outsider now- strange, troubling, and often unwelcome. Little wonder there is no room for him.
Which is, in fact, perhaps how it always really was and always will be. If we find it hard to speak of God, to experience God, to imagine God- well, that’s fine. Because God comes to us from glory, before time and space, eternal and almighty- God is not something we can get our head round seriously. And if it is, indeed, God who has come to us at Christmas, then the God of Jesus Christ should make us uneasy, even guilty. For the One for whom there was no room at the inn is bound to ask us- what about the people today for whom there is no room? What are you doing for them? Do you even think about them? And- this is the really hard part- are you willing to give up some of your comfort to make room for them?
But if the coming of Christ is a judgement, it can it also be a blessing, if we will let it be so. For surely only a God who loves us dearly would go to the trouble of coming among us, sharing our joys and sorrows, living and dying as we do. And the good news is that the Christ who was born and lived and died among us also rose from the grave. He came as an outsider, and we often make no room for him. Yet he offers us the greatest Christmas present of all time: forgiveness, a new start, and a faith to live our lives by.
I read a story the other day about a man who was in love with a woman. Every year he sent a Valentine’s Day card to her, and although she knew who he was, she never responded. This went on for twenty years. Finally, on the 21st year, he decided to go to her house himself and hand her the card personally. And not long afterwards, they got married, because at last he had stopped sending cards, and come to see her himself. And that, brothers and sisters, is what Christmas is all about. God has come to visit, because sometimes only a visit will do.
Ascription of Praise
Glory to God in highest heaven,
and on earth peace to all in whom God delights!
Luke 2.14 (alt)
Biblical references from the Good News Bible, unless otherwise stated
© 2017 Peter W Nimmo