Sermon – Nathan Mantey 12/29/13

Sermons_Rev Robert Szo_St Stephen's_ St Mary's

“The Innkeeper’s Story”

They looked no different than a dozen other families I had already turned away that evening.

How was I to know that they were special? That somehow she carried within her the Son of God?

I mean, who knew?

Do you have any idea what I was going through that night? Never in my lifetime have I seen such an upheaval of people. You think your highways are crowded at Christmas time – you should have seen ours. Try to imagine what it would be like if your government announced that within 30 days, the head of every household must return to their place of birth. That was our situation. A decree went out from Caesar Augustus — and the result was chaos. People were moving in every direction. Roads were choked with travelers, food supplies ran short, water was at a premium — and so was housing!

Caesar’s decree was, for me, the chance of a lifetime. Many of the families who returned to Bethlehem stayed with relatives or friends. But many families had neither — and they needed lodging.

My inn was completely full, night after night. I raised the rates — and my inn was still full! I upped them again — no matter! There were always those who could afford the price I asked. It seemed as if all the rich were gathered under my roof. I’m not a friend of Caesar’s, but Caesar was certainly a friend to me.

You disapprove? Would you have done any differently? I have a wife to support and five children who never stop eating! The census was my chance to make a killing and I was busy doing that.

And then — they stood at the door. The inn had been filled since the 9th hour — but there they stood — asking for a room. I had already turned many others away, and so, I told them the same thing: “There is no room.”

But as I spoke with the husband, I saw the weariness in his face, and I wondered when last they had rested. And when I looked into his eyes, I saw not only fatigue, but a desperate pleading to be listened to.

And then, I saw the woman. Her body was heavy with child, and her face was tightening with the first spasms of pain. As the father of five, I had seen that look before. I knew that the birth would happen soon. I told them there was no room in the inn, but if they wanted to, they could bed down with the animals. I thought I was doing them a big favor — especially since I did not charge them the going rate. I let them have it cheap!

I didn’t know they were special. But because of who they were, you think of me as the one who said, “no room,” and put the Holy Child out back with the animals. “No room” are the words I’m known by. “No room” has become my name. “Mr. No Room”, the Innkeeper — that’s the only thing you know about me. But perhaps that’s the only thing any of us need to know about each other. Is there “room” or “no room” for the Christ Child? Perhaps that’s the crux of Christmas — making room.

I missed that child because I was too busy to realize what God was doing. With all due respect to the Almighty, God could have chosen a more convenient time — when my life was not so crowded with responsibilities and opportunities that needed my immediate attention. At a convenient time, I would gladly have made room for him.

Except — when would there really be a convenient time for God to knock on my door? I seem to be always busy, one thing after another — I’m never caught up. Maybe God knew that. Maybe God got tired of waiting for a convenient time. Maybe what happened to me was God’s way of saying something to all of us:  If your life is already filled to capacity and your time already fully scheduled, you may not recognize God when He knocks at your door.

Isn’t it ironic? Christ came to be with us. His name was Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” but instead it was the so-called dumb animals that made room for him. They took him in when I shut him out. We humans paid him no attention until the shepherds came, asking about “a baby lying in a manger.” A manger — that’s where I put the Son of God!

If I had just taken the time to listen to Joseph — to let him explain the events that brought him to Bethlehem. If I had known who he was, I would have made room. I would have moved someone out — or given him my room. I would have made room, where there was no room.

Maybe that’s what God is asking each of us to do for this Child — to make room where perhaps there has been no room.

It’s pathetic isn’t it? Me, an innkeeper who provides rooms for people for the night, didn’t provide room for my most important guest of all time. I missed the knock on my door! But for you, there is still time to receive him, still time to look at the clutter in your life, still time to question if the rooms of your life are filled with the truly important things. There’s still time to reserve a place for this most special guest of all, so that when he knocks, you can give him a better reception than I did.

And he will knock. You can be sure of that. It may not be at a convenient time — in fact I suspect there really is no convenient time for Christ to knock on the door of our hearts — but it will happen. During his ministry he told us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He began with me, even before he was born. He has been doing that ever since. Knocking at the door of the lives of men and women – asking to be born in their hearts – instead of in a manger.

O my friends, your Christmas can still be everything mine should have been. I could have been the first to welcome him! How sad that instead my door should have been the one to shut out Mary and her Son.

narrated by Nathan Mantey