When you’re on the road and need a place to lay your head, a “NO VACANCY” sign is bad news indeed. You’ve heard about the most famous “no room here” story for the last several days, but I’m going to give you the rest of the story …
Before I do, let me welcome you to “Mornings with Bishop Robert” — thanks for joining me, because I do this for you. My goal is to introduce people to the Jesus they never knew, and help them get to know Him and His word personally – and better !
Even people who are not otherwise familiar with scripture often know quite a few details of the Christmas story. But since the stories come more from modern messaging than the bible, we have images in our head of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a stable, shepherds in fields, three wise men arriving on camels and an innkeeper who has no room for a woman about to give birth. Some of these are entirely biblically accurate, and others are very much less so.
There were most certainly actual shepherds caring for real live sheep out in the actual fields surrounding Bethlehem. The bible doesn’t give us a number, but they were there.
We think of three wise men visiting because three gifts are mentioned, but the bible doesn’t mention how many there were. Our nativity scenes place them there on the night of Christ’s birth, but Matthew’s gospel (the only one to mention the Magi) does not. There certainly could have been many more Magi who gave three gifts.
In fact, Matthew’s account tells us the star lead the wise men to the holy family and the house they are in. That’s right — a house! It’s possible the Magi could have arrived days, months, or possibly even years later. The bible doesn’t pin down the details.
Everyone reads from the lens of their own experience and culture. Because some versions of the bible use the word “inn” for a word that had several possible meanings, people picture some ancient version of a Marriott or a Motel 6 and cast the innkeeper in very unfavorable light. But the biblical facts here may surprise you.
Let’s begin with the verse for today:
WHILE THEY WERE THERE, THE TIME CAME FOR THE BABY TO BE BORN, 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.
Some versions of the bible translates this word describing the place to stay as “inn,” including the first major English translation, the King James Version. But the word typically refers to a spare room in a private house, not a commercial place of business that offered shelter to strangers.
During one Christmas celebration not long ago my grandson found himself in the same situation Joseph and Mary faced. With four different out of town guests visiting for Christmas, we had no available beds in our home. We have a guest room, but it was full! So, we did what every family all over the world does in this situation, we found another comfortable place in the home to sleep. For my grandson, it was a couch. For Mary and Joseph, it was the part of the house where families typically brought their animals in for the night. We create the image of a cave or a stable because we know that Mary laid the Baby Jesus in a manger. But having a manger of hay for the animals to feed from was very common.
Enjoy your nativity scenes. We have one prominently displayed in our home. But recognize that they serve as a reminder of the cast of characters, not as a historical depiction of sleeping arrangements. And by all means let the poor “innkeeper” off the hook. When Joseph showed up in his ancestral home, the rules of hospitality then would have dictated much the same expectation we have today. When family arrives in town, you find a way to make room. Some accommodations may be more comfortable than others; some will have beds, others couches, and perhaps a few get blankets and pillows on the floor. But you find a way to make room.
And perhaps that’s one of the overlooked lessons of Christmas. The lesson we all need to apply in our lives.
Make room for Jesus.
Make room in your heart. Make room in your life. Make room in your home.
You may need to re-arrange a few things, or make some adjustments. But He has come to you.
Make room for Jesus.