In this reflection, perhaps we can consider but one line in the Gospel which both challenges our love, and is a sign of God’s humble and abiding love for us: For there was no room for them in the Inn.
I. The Scene – There is a knock at midnight. Joseph speaking on behalf of both Mary and Jesus (who is in her womb still), seeks entrance to the homes and lodgings of those in Bethlehem. And though the Jewish people, in those ancient days, placed a high obligation upon the duty of hospitality to the stranger and passerby, the answer is repeatedly, “No room here.” Mary’s obvious pregnancy and imminent delivery make little difference, it would seem.
This indeed is a cold night, not so much in terms of the air temperature, but in terms of the hearts of the people. Even at the local Inn, (Surely someone could make room for a pregnant woman!), No room at the Inn.
Yes! A cold night. The only warmth will be found among the animals of that town. An old Latin antiphon for Christmas says, O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, un animalia viderent Dominum natum iacentem in praesepio. (O great mystery and stunning sacrament, that animals would see the newborn Lord lying in a feedbox). Here warmth will be found, among the animals. It is sometimes said that man can be brutish. But the reality is that we can sink even beneath the beasts, doing things to ourselves and to each other that even animals do not do.
The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know me, my people do not understand….They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Isaiah 1:3-4)
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (John 1:10-11).
A knock at midnight, the animals received him and gave warmth. His own people, knowing him not, received him not. And into this very midnight darkness and cold the light and warmth of God’s love will shine forth. The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone (Is 9:1)
II. The Stooping – Surely God stoops low to come from lightsome heaven to our war torn, dark and cold world. And as he stoops, he stoops to the lowest place, being born not in a palace or even a comfortable home. He stoops to a manger. For God will defeat Satan’s pride with humility. And all who will find him this fateful night must also stoop.
And this stooping of God is illustrated even in the very topography of this night. The towns of the Holy Land built on the tops of the tall hills (something we almost never do here in America). But this is done (where land is more scarce) so as to leave the fertile valleys for agriculture. And Bethlehem too is perched on the higher land and the shepherd’s fields lie below. The streets of Bethlehem are steep and built on tiers or levels. Thus, the back lot of many homes and buildings drops steeply down and beneath the buildings. And beneath the buildings they hollowed out caves where animals and tools and tools were kept.
It was there, down under, where Joseph and Mary sought hasty shelter, for it was a cold and dark midnight, and Mary’s time had come. God stoops with them to be born, among the animals and agricultural implements, in the damp under-cave of some house or inn.
And, for those who will find our God. They too must stoop low. Even to this day when one visits Bethlehem and wants to see the place of Jesus’ birth, one must first enter the Church through what is termed the “Door of Humility.” For security reasons this ancient door was built only about four feet high. And one must stoop greatly to enter the church. Yes, we must stoop to find our God. The site of the birth is at the other end of the basilica, under the altar area. Here again, more stooping; down steep stairs and through another low and narrow door, into the cave. To touch the spot, one must kneel and reach forward, into a narrower part of the cave. Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, says the inscription. And the only to get there is to stoop.
Yes, Our God stoops, he stoops to the lowest place, and to find him, and be with him we too must be willing to stoop. God hates pride, he just can’t stand it. For he sees what it does to us and he comes to break its back, not with clubs and swords, or by overpowering, but with humility. Darkness does not defeat darkness, only light can do that. Hate does not defeat hate, only love can do that. Pride will not defeat Pride, only humility will do that. So God stoops.
And tonight God calls us with this same humility. He could have ridden down from Heaven on a lightning bolt and stunned us into fearful submission. Instead he goes to the lowest place. He comes quietly, non-violently, without threat, as an infant. But even in this lowly way, he is still calling.
And so there is a knock at midnight. Scripture says, 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 (Rev 3:20). An old song says, “Somebody’s knocking at your door! Oh Sinner, why don’t you answer?”
And this leads us to the final point –
III. The Saddest thing – When human history is complete and the last books are written, one of the saddest lines in all of that history will be simply the line, For there was no room for them in the Inn. No room, no room. How strange and sad for this world that God simply doesn’t fit. He does fit our agendas, our schedules, our priorities. No room, He just doesn’t fit.
Again, as Scripture says,
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. (Jn 1:11)
But that same passage goes on to add:
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God— (John 1:12)
What could be more sad than to miss this gift to become the very Children of God? Yes, the saddest line that will ever be written of this world is that there was no room for him in the Inn.
And what of us? Is there room for Jesus in the “Inn” of our hearts? For if there is, Jesus comes bearing many gifts. Tonight is a night of gifts. There is a knock at this very midnight. Sounds like Jesus! Oh Sinner, why don’t you answer, somebody’s knocking at your door.
Make room for Jesus. Every year he comes knocking, he stoops low and invites us to find him in the lowly places of this world, in the lowly places of our own life. What are the things in your life that may be crowding out Jesus? What obstacles and preoccupations leave little or no room for Jesus? What keeps you from recognizing him and opening the door wide when he comes?
If you’ve already opened the door to him for many years, praise God, and ask the Lord to help you open wider. For it remains true for many of us that although Jesus has been invited in, his accommodations are poor, perhaps the couch or the floor.
Make room for Jesus, make more and more room for him, in the Inn of your soul and I promise you that what Scripture says is true: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God— (John 1:12).
If you will receive the gift of him tonight, and make greater room for him in your heart, I promise you total victory and transformation in Christ Jesus. There will come to you the increasing gift of transformation into the very likeness of God. For tonight is a night of gifts and Jesus stoops low to give us a priceless gift: the power to become the children of God.
It’s midnight…. there is a knock at the door.