Innkeeper: When God Knocks, How Will You Answer?
The inn at Bethlehem has become the most famous of all inns—not because of what happened there, but because of something that might have happened, but didn’t. How does the Bible say it? You know the words by heart, “She brought forth her first born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.” Now interestingly enough, while virtually every retelling of the Christmas story includes as one of its characters the innkeeper at Bethlehem, the fact of the matter is that he is not even mentioned directly in the Bible. However, this innkeeper has become a kind of symbol of the inhospitality of the human spirit. We think of the innkeeper and his inn, and we are moved to ask why is there no room in the inn for the Lord of glory? Why is He shut out of so many hearts? Now I know you may have come here today wanting to feel the rosy glow of the season and wanting to hear a syrupy-sweet version of the Christmas story. I’m sorry. I cannot give you that. The Bible states quite specifically that on the first Christmas in the very first place God, in Jesus Christ, came to in this world, he was turned away. I believe that in this Christmas season it behooves us to try to understand why.
Perhaps the innkeeper’s problem was misread opportunities.
This innkeeper has been discussed for two thousand years, and why? Because he missed his moment of opportunity when it came. Granted it was a pressure-packed time for him. His inn was like a hive at swarming, and when there came yet one more knock at his door, he never realized that what was about to happen was in fact the most important thing that would happen to him in all of his life. Strange isn’t it, that time is best measured not by its duration, but by its content? One can live more in an hour than in a week. Sometimes whole centuries are defined by what happens in a single day. When a moment comes, we can exalt it or we can debase it by what we do with it. So many times so much is won or lost on the basis of what we do with a moment of opportunity when it comes. The knock at the door was heard, but the innkeeper missed his moment. He said, “Sorry, I have no room.” Now if he had known the identity of his guests, if he had even dreamed that the child born in the stable would split history in two, and that for all the centuries to come the world would date its letters from that very night, well you can be sure that he would have made room somewhere. He would have made some arrangements. He didn’t know that that traveler and his wife, burdened with an unborn child, were so important, but then we never do know when God comes knocking on our door.
We are impressed with shiny things, showy things, and noisy things. For us greatness must come clothed in garments of grandeur. God must be impressive when He comes, but the fact is that is seldom the case. A manger, straw, peasants, donkey, a woman great with child—who would ever recognize God’s coming in such common, ordinary things. How often we miss Him; shut Him out, because we do not recognize the humility of our God. When God comes to us in the person of some hungry woman, or some lonely man, or some confused teenager, or some neglected child, we can so easily turn away—ignoring Him as if He were not there. Interesting isn’t it how in every way God chooses to come to us, we are free to simply turn our backs and look in another direction? The cry of a child in a manger—who but God would have thought of that as the way to lay hold of the human heart forever. Our problem is we try to gild the story. We try to provide it with splendor, grandeur, and romance, but there is no way to get around the truth. That stable was a dirty, unromantic place. God was trying to tell us, you see, that holy things are lowly things, that the mighty things are the little things. That’s the way God’s greatness comes to us—born small in a sorry place, often rejected and shut out, with only a few lowly shepherds and a few wise men with the insight to see in it the glory of God. You see, it takes a most receptive heart to recognize God’s knock at the door when it comes. Yes, so many times Jesus gets shut out of our lives by misread opportunities.
Or perhaps the innkeeper’s problem was misdirected desires.
Christ was shut out by His own people, and still is, because in some rooms of our inn, He is not welcome. That is the tragic note in the Christmas story—the rejection of the way of Jesus Christ and the rejection of the revolutionary changes He brings. There is a new book out written by television anchorman, John Gibson. The book is entitled The War on Christmas. In the book John Gibson, in rather shocking detail, makes the case that all over this country, there is a concerted effort to remove Jesus Christ as the heart of the Christmas story. When you read the book, you can hardly believe the things which have occurred in recent years—all of them directed, not at other faith systems and their practices, but only at Christianity and the One who stands at the heart of our faith. In fact, John Gibson goes on to say that the war on Christmas in our society is actually a war on Christians. Behind it all is the rejection of Jesus Christ and the rejection of the revolutionary changes He brings. Dear friends, if you do not see what happened in the doorway of that Bethlehem inn as a foreshadowing of the cross, then you have not really heard the Christmas story. There were those in His day who listened to Him and when they heard what He was really saying, they asked Him to get out. Ultimately, of course, they pinned him to a tree because they did not want to yield to the demand that Christ’s way is the only way. Make no mistake, Jesus Christ cannot enter a life without radically changing that life.
It is at this Christmas season especially that Jesus comes seeking to gain entrance to our hearts. However, when He enters in, He changes things. He seeks repentance. He seeks reversal. We can fool ourselves some of the time and we can fool other people a lot of the time, but we cannot fool Jesus even for a moment. He comes with the searchlight of His purity right into the center of our lives. He is ready to change us. The problem is that there are those who don’t want to make the changes He requires. So they say, ‘”No room.”
Here then is the great message of Christmas I want us to grasp. We must make room for Jesus Christ here—in our politics, in our business, in our learning, in our playing, in our homes, in our schools, and most of all, in our hearts. And we must do it soon. We need to quit fooling ourselves into thinking that someday we shall find room for Him. You see, we’ll never find room—we have to make room—and we have to make it now. We need to choose right now between things that do not matter and the one thing that matters above all else: Jesus Christ.
Which brings me to Wally Pearling.
Wally Pearling was nine years old and lived not far from Atlanta, Georgia. He was a bit disabled mentally—as we say these days, he was “intellectually delayed.” In other words, Wally Pearling was not as quick and bright as the other youngsters his age, but everybody loved Wally Pearling because he was so gentle and loving. The big event in his town every year is the Christmas pageant. Wally Pearling was anxious to be in the pageant a couple of years ago. He wanted to be a shepherd. However, the shepherds had large speaking roles, and Wally just couldn’t remember the lines. So they made him the innkeeper instead. He had only one line—“no room.” The teacher said to him, “Now Wally when you say your line, be very stem and tough.” So Wally Pearling practiced and practiced. The night of the pageant arrived. There came that point in the performance when Mary and Joseph stood at the door of the inn, and they knocked. Wally came out, walking as tough as he knew how to walk. Joseph said, “My beloved Mary is about to give birth and we need a place to rest a while.” Wally looked at Mary and then there was one of those long pauses that sometimes happen in children’s Christmas pageants. The people in the audience were made uneasy by the long silence so they didn’t even notice Wally. Wally wasn’t looking tough anymore. No, Wally had tears in his eyes. Suddenly, he blurted out, “I’m supposed to say, ‘No room,’ but you can have my room for the Baby!”
What does the Bible say? “And a little child shall lead them.”