Luke 2:1-14 (NIV)
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
“No room at the inn” – I imagine that’s going to be a popular message this Sunday; this allegory about how we don’t have room for Jesus in our lives. But I want us to take a different tack and think about it in a slightly different way. What if the issue isn’t that there’s no room at the inn of our lives, but rather that we book the baby Jesus and the Saviour he is and becomes into the inn instead of visiting him at the manger?
Most of us know the nitty gritty details of what Jesus’ birth in a barn would have looked (and smelled!) like. A far cry from the romanticized images of Mary, Joseph and the animals leaning together around the newborn child, certainly! It would have been a deeply unpleasant, harrowing, even humiliating experience. I imagine both Joseph and Mary were frightened. Giving birth is still a potentially dangerous business today; naturally it was much worse back then. It would have been easier, cleaner and safer to give birth at the inn. There would probably have been a midwife around or, failing that, older women who had some experience with the process.
But if Mary hadn’t given birth to Jesus in what we’d be generous to call a barn, would the shepherds still have come in to see him, to see the Lord’s Messiah?
Shepherding wasn’t – and still isn’t – the world’s most glamorous occupation. It’s dirty, lonely, thankless work. The shepherds represented exactly that sector of society the temple had begun to see as, if not beyond God’s help and care, then at least entirely unworthy of it. Shepherds weren’t the kinds of people allowed at inns. And yet, like women became the first witnesses of Jesus’ eventual resurrection, the first visitors to the newly born Saviour weren’t Israel’s religious leaders; they were merely shepherds.
I see so much “Dibs!” rhetoric from Christians nowadays. We act like we own Jesus, like we and our institutions alone define and dispense his grace. There is nothing of the messiness of the manger in our faith. We’ve booked the baby Jesus into the inn, away from problematic questions about sin and privilege and legalism and hypocrisy. We do so because we’ve stopped seeing ourselves in those bemused shepherds, dirty and sweaty from a day of working out in the wilderness. We do so because we take for granted that we’ve been found, and have no empathy left for those still lost.
Friends, perhaps there not being room for Jesus at the inn of our lives isn’t the issue. Perhaps the issue is that we’re sitting inside the inn in the first place. On Christmas we celebrate and commemorate the birth of a Saviour who came expressly so that he could be born in a manger. That means something. It means that we have to let ourselves be the surprised shepherds once more. It means we need to remember the immense privilege and freedom of grace. If we don’t, if we forget just how much we’ve been forgiven, we’ll never be able to extend grace to others.
As we wrap up Christmas and begin to look to 2017, we have a choice to make. Will we crowd around Jesus in a manger, in the very spaces he came to inhabit, in the reality of a lost world? Or will we stick to our inn, gathered around “an infant mild” that threatens at times to become little more than an idol of religiosity?
Blessings for your sermons,