Have you ever had one of those birthdays when you wanted people to throw a party for you? You wanted them to buy some nice gifts. You hinted at what gifts you wanted and even left maps to the places where you wanted them to shop. You were hoping someone would get the idea of throwing you a surprise party. You were certain that every time you went out to dinner with a friend that people were going to jump out and yell, “Happy Birthday!” You were looking forward to it with great excitement. But nothing happened. The party never took place. In fact, it seemed like people forgot your birthday. Or worse yet, they remembered it but failed to acknowledge it.
In theory, that is what Christmas can be like. It is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In contrast to your birthday or mine, everyone recognizes it. Everywhere we go, there are reminders that Christmas is coming. Merchants want you to shop till you drop and spend money. Shoppers, in turn, can get psycho about getting good deals. Two years ago on Black Friday, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as the crowd rushed into the store to find a few savings. And last year, a woman was trampled at the entrance of a Toys R Us in Tennessee when the store opened its doors. Thankfully, she survived.
We all need to just relax a little bit and remember what this season is about: it is the time when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. In the midst of our activities and preparations to celebrate Christmas, how often do we forget about the honored guest? We string our lights. We trim our trees. We talk about Christmas. We hear recorded songs mentioning the birth of Jesus. But how many people actually take time for him? We run around the malls and buy things for everyone we know – and even some people we wish we didn’t know. But we can forget to make room in our schedules for Jesus.
This is not a 21st-century phenomenon alone. It happened in the first century as well, on the very first Christmas. Mary and Joseph had been biding their time in Nazareth. It was getting closer and closer to the day of her delivery. Then suddenly an announcement was made that everyone had to be taxed, and everyone had to go to their initial hometown for this to take place.
Because Mary and Joseph both were descendants of King David, they made their journey to Bethlehem, David’s hometown. When this announcement was made, they probably thought about it as the greatest interruption, hassle and perhaps a mistake on God’s part. Why would he want Mary to make this long, difficult journey to Bethlehem this late in her pregnancy?
The reason was that God is a stickler for detail. Scripture had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, so that is what Mary and Joseph had to do. They had to go to Bethlehem.
As we think about the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we can romanticize this in our minds. We imagine a full moon with the silhouettes of Mary and Joseph against a starlit sky, and soft, angelic music playing in the background.
The fact of the matter is this was a very hard journey. It would have been difficult under any circumstances, but the fact that Mary was so late in her pregnancy made it even more so. It was approximately a 90-mile trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and in those days, people would travel about 20 miles a day. They didn’t travel a flat, paved road, but rugged terrain that would go up and down. It likely would have been in the dead of winter, with temperatures in the 30s. At night, it would have been freezing cold. Add to that the dangers in the forest, with lions, bears and wild boars, not to mention the potential threat of robbers and bandits.
Mary and Joseph probably comforted themselves with the thought of a warm bed waiting for them in Bethlehem. But that was not to be the case. When they finally arrived that night, they found that every place was full. The innkeeper told them, “There is no room here,” and he sent them out to a stable, possibly a cave, where the Savior of the world was born.
We hear this story and wonder what the deal was with that innkeeper. How could he have been so indifferent? Where was his heart? But I think that innkeeper was like a lot of people at this particular time of year. They are just too preoccupied. They are interested in the buck – and in the innkeeper’s case, the shekel. He could obviously see that Mary was ready to give birth. He could obviously see she was in discomfort, but there wasn’t enough money in it for him. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about this innkeeper. We can sort of let our imaginations run a little wild and wonder what really happened on that particular night when he turned them away.
This symbolized the entire ministry of Jesus and his life on earth from the cradle to the cross. He could have been born in the most elegant mansion or on the ritziest boulevard in the Roman Empire. He could have come from aristocratic parents, boasting of their pedigree or great learning. He could have had the finest clothes and attended the most exclusive schools. Instead, he was brought to us in a place like a cave and had a manger for his cradle. The fact there was no room for him at the inn was indicative of the treatment that he would receive throughout his entire earthly ministry. One telling passage is found for us in John’s Gospel where it says, “And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives” (John 7:53–8:1). Everyone went home for the night, but Jesus went to sleep out in the open air on the Mount of Olives.
There was never room for Jesus. And today, there is just no room for him in so many situations. Is there room for Jesus in your life right now? As we enter into the Christmas season, and as we prepare to start a new year with new opportunities, will you make room in your life for him?