“AN ANNOUNCEMENT AT AN INN”[1]

LUKE 2:1-7

DECEMBER 20, 2015

Rev Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            Wally, age seven, was big for his age. Given the fact he was somewhat mentally challenged, everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him in the annual Christmas play. Maybe he wouldn’t get a role at all. Perhaps he would pull the curtain for the play. To everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy, of course, was delighted. After all, all he had to learn was one line: “There is no room in the inn.” He had that down in no time.

            Then came the night for the program.The auditorium was packed. The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened on Scene One. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the inn. "Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?” Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all day. He began, there is … and he hesitated. He started over again. There is … and again his mind went completely blank. Everyone was embarrassed for him and poor Wally just didn't know what to do. Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward the stable. Seeing him walking away Wally, in desperation, called out: “Look, there's plenty of room at my house. Just come on home with me."

            What a delightful twist on the familiar story! Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become clearly defined for us. Herod was a villain and the wise men were heroes. The shepherds were heroes and the Innkeeper … well, given his “no room at the inn” announcement, the poor innkeeper has gone down as one of the heavies in the story. In our minds eye, we envision him as a crotchety old man with a night cap on his head sticking his head out a second story window and tersely shouting, “Take the stable and leave me alone.”

            Of course, when reading the account more carefully, we realize the innkeeper’s announcement is pure speculation. Nowhere in the bible does the Christmas story have an actual, identifiable innkeeper. Luke just says, in explaining why the King of Kings was born in a  manger, that “there was no place for him in the inn.” He doesn’t mention an innkeeper at all. Over the centuries we have just assumed that if there was an inn, there had to be an innkeeper and he or she had to tell them, “Sorry, no room for you inside. Try the stable out back.”

            And that part of making the innkeeper a heavy in the Christmas story seems a bit unjustified. Was it his fault that the inn was built with ten rooms instead of eleven? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving?

            Nevertheless, this simple little statement about there being “no room in the inn” or in our pew bible’s translation, “there was no place for them in the inn,” became a symbol for Luke in his gospel. In fact, it almost becomes a theme in his gospel. Luke takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and shows us how this phrase was recurrent throughout Jesus’ ministry.

            Think about his gospel. We worked our way through his gospel a couple of years ago. It took us an entire year to do so, and if you were here for that series, do you remember how Luke told us how there was no room for Jesus in the economic world? He told us that story about how Jesus and the disciples stepped off a boat at Gadara. A mad man, screaming wildly and tearing at himself, suddenly approached them. Jesus walked up to the man and asked his name. "I am legion, for we are many," came the response. He was right. This poor, tormented man was so confused, pulled in so many different directions, that he was no longer one personality but many. Jesus then commanded the demons to come out of this man and into a nearby herd of swine. The pigs immediately stampeded and ran off a cliff and were killed. The man was healed.

            But what was the response of the community? Did they sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow?” Did they build a hospital in the community and name it after the Nazarene? No, none of these things. What they did was to send a committee to Jesus and kindly ask him to get out of town. You see, they weren't so concerned about that poor demoniac man. He had been around so many years that he had simply become a part of the landscape. But what really got to them was the fact that Jesus destroyed a herd of swine to heal him. That hit them in the pocket book. It was quite clear to them that if Jesus stayed around the local economy would be disrupted. What they wanted was business as usual and not some itinerant miracle worker.

            So the local delegation asks Jesus to kindly leave. Exactly how they worded this to him we don't know, but I would like to venture a guess. I suspect that the conversation went something like this: “Jesus, our lives were doing quite well before you came into town. We don't think that we need you, and we know that we don't want you. So Jesus, do us a favor and go try to save the world in some other place. We have to work too hard to fool around with a do-gooder.” You see, there was just no room for Jesus in the economic world.

            There’s is still little room for Jesus in the economic world. What seems to be most important in our world is a return on our investment rather than doing the right thing. If it’s good for business we will do what Jesus tells us to do, but if it’s not, well we’ll ignore his teachings.

            Luke also told us how there was little room for Jesus in the legal system of the day. In Jesus’ day the law was cut and dried. It had been codified centuries earlier … all the way back to Moses. One of those laws read: “Whosoever commits adultery shall be stoned to death.” They came down harder on the enforcement of this law, at least on women, than any other. There were no loopholes. No plea-bargaining.

            Then when the crowd brought to Jesus a woman one day who had been caught in the act, they were ill-prepared for his response. He refused to go along with the stoning. Didn’t he know the Torah? Oh yes, he knew it, But he also knew something about grace. And that was higher than the law, even the great Law of Moses. The crowd was astonished to say the least. They dropped their stones and walked away, but the majority did not like it one bit. They didn't do anything about it right away. They were just biding their time. To them the law was the law and it was clear that there was simply no place for Jesus in this whole matter.

            Take some of the hot-button legal issues of our day. Capital punishment. Gay marriage. Abortion. The Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms. Prayer in schools. Those most worked up about these issues, no matter what side of the issue they take, believe we are leaving Jesus out of the equation, we are not making room for him in the debate.

            Finally, for Luke there was little room for Jesus in the religious order of the day. Jesus knew that from the get go. In fact, knowing that he called lay people, no clergy types to be his disciples. He knew the religious order would make no room for him.

            That may sound strange but it was true. People like Annas and Caiaphas, the religious mucky-mucks of the day, hated Jesus.  They asked, “Who was this new man on the scene who called himself teacher, rabbi. Where did he go to seminary? Who were his parents? Where does he get his authority?”

            Nowhere in Luke’s Gospel, or in any of the other gospels, is there any hint of the chief priests being open to him. They didn't stretch out their arms and welcome Jesus into their clerical profession. In fact, they did everything they could to keep him out.    They even worked behind the scenes to kill him.

            I hope that’s not true today. I know that may sound strange, but I hope there is room for Jesus in the religious ream today, but I fear what the pastor and author A. W. Tozer said a number of years ago may be correct. He said, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” Have we adopted a secular, business model for the church? I wonder. I wonder.

            Wherever Jesus turns in Luke’s Gospel … in the economic or legal or religious … there was no room for him. What began first in Bethlehem when the supposed innkeeper turned him away was to become a recurrent theme.

            That leads us to today, to you and to me. Do we have room for Christ in our lives? When the innkeeper was presented with this unexpected situation, he faced a universal dilemma. At that point he became every person. Every person is asked, “Do you have room for the Messiah?”

            The supposed innkeeper claimed that he had no room. Isn't the crowded inn a rather appropriate metaphor of our lives? So cluttered that there is just no time, no energy, no room left over.

            Let me close with this. Years ago a young man was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at the lunch counter, a woman came out of the ladies' restroom carrying a tiny baby. She walked up to this man and asked, "Would you hold my baby for me? I left my purse in the rest room." He did, but as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd.

            This guy couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed to the door to call the woman, but couldn't see her anywhere. Now what should he do? Put the baby down and run?

            When calmness finally settled in he went to the Traveler’s Aid booth and together with the local police, they soon found the real mother. You see, the woman who'd left him holding the baby wasn't the baby's real mother. She'd taken the child. Maybe it was to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child or something else. No one really knows, but we do know that this man, breathed a sigh of relief when the real mother was found. After all, what was he going to do with a baby?

            Here’s the point. In a way, we're all in the same sort of situation as that young man. Every Christmas God Himself walks up to us and asks, "Would you hold my baby for me, please?" And then thrusts the Christ Child into our arms. And we're left with the question, "What are we going to do with this baby?" Where will He live after Christmas? Will we take this baby into our hearts? What will we do with this this baby?

            Amen.


[1] Much of message borrowed from the message “No Room at the Inn,” from Brett Blair at sermons.com