In this reflection, perhaps we can consider just a single line in the Gospel, one that both challenges our love and acts as 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. Although the Jewish people in those days placed a high obligation upon the duty of hospitality to the stranger and passerby, the answer repeatedly given is, “No room here.” Mary’s obviously advanced pregnancy and the imminence of delivery seem to make little difference.
It is indeed a cold night, not so much in terms of the air temperature, but in terms of the hearts of the people. Surely someone could make room for a pregnant woman! But no; no room at the inn.
Yes, it is a cold night. The only warmth to be found is amongst the animals. An old Latin antiphon for Christmas says, O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut 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 in the manger, 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 one another that even animals do not.
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 (Is 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 (Jn 1:10-11).
There was a knock at midnight. The animals received Him and gave warmth, yet we, His own people, knowing Him not received Him not. But in this 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, cold world. As He stoops, He stoops to the lowest place, being born not in a palace or even in a comfortable home. He stoops to a manger. God will defeat Satan’s pride with humility. All who will find Him this fateful night must also stoop.
This stooping of God is illustrated even in the very topography of the area. The towns of the Holy Land were built on the tops of the tall hills (something we almost never do here in America). Where land is relatively scarce, this is done so as to leave the fertile valleys for agriculture. Bethlehem was perched on higher land and the shepherd’s fields lay below. The streets of Bethlehem were steep and built on tiers or levels. Thus, the back lot of many homes and buildings dropped steeply down and beneath the buildings. Beneath the buildings the people hollowed out caves where animals and tools and tools were kept.
It was in such a place, down under, where Joseph and Mary sought hasty shelter, for it was a cold and dark midnight and Mary’s time had come. God stooped with them to be born, among the animals and agricultural implements, in the damp cave under some house or inn.
Those who want to find our God 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 called the “Door of Humility.” For security reasons, this door was built to be only about four feet high. One must stoop greatly to enter through it. 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 is required; down steep stairs, through another low and narrow door, and 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. The only way to get there is to stoop.
Yes, our God stoops; He stoops to the lowest place. To find Him and be with Him we, too, must be willing to stoop. God hates pride. He just can’t stand it because He sees what it does to us. He comes to break its back, not with clubs and swords or by overpowering, but with humility. Darkness cannot defeat darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot defeat hate; only love can do that. Pride cannot defeat pride; only humility can do that. So God stoops.
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. Even in this lowly way, though, He is still calling.
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?”
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 this one: 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 doesn’t fit our agendas, our schedules, our priorities. No room; He just doesn’t fit.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn 1:11).
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God (Jn 1:12).
What could be sadder 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.
What of us? Is there room for Jesus in the “inn” of our hearts? If there is, Jesus comes bearing many gifts. There is a knock at the door this very midnight. It 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 Him? What keeps you from recognizing Jesus 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. Even though many of us have invited Jesus in, we’ve given him poor accommodations, perhaps relegating him to the couch or the floor.
Make room for Jesus. Make more and more room for Him in the inn of your soul. 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 (Jn 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. Tonight is a night of gifts and Jesus stoops low to give us a priceless gift: the power to become children of God. Is there room in the “inn” of your heart?
It’s midnight and there is a knock at the door.