Episode 1. No Room at the Inn
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Travel is a hassle. It’s okay if you’re going on the occasional holiday, that’s fun. But if you’re always on and off planes and in and out of taxis and hotels like I am, then …
Travel is a hassle. It’s okay if you’re going on the occasional holiday, that’s fun. But if you’re always on and off planes and in and out of taxis and hotels like I am, then yeah, it’s hard work. So imagine you’re on a long trip, you finally get to your hotel and then they tell you that not only are they fully booked but there’s a convention in town and there’s not a single room to be had anywhere.
I remember a few years back, my wife and I flew from Australia to the US, to Chicago, in fact. That’s a long flight, about twenty-four hours door to door. We had a room booked at a hotel on the Golden Mile in Chicago because I was speaking at an IT conference there and the conference organisers had set it all up for me.
In LA where we had to clear customs, we discovered that they’d lost Jacqui’s suitcase (along the way), fantastic. And then when we landed in Chicago, we had to part ways because I had to fly on for a couple of days to Minneapolis, St Paul. So the plan was Jacqui would catch a cab to the Chicago hotel and I would join her in a couple of days time.
Now, it was her very first trip to the USA. She doesn’t do a lot of travel so heading to the hotel on her own was just a little bit daunting. So not only is her luggage missing but she has to find her own way to downtown Chicago and when she arrives, get this, she’s told, “No, sorry but the hotel is fully booked.”
“Hang on, there’s a conference here and my husband is the keynote speaker and the conference organisers have booked a room and …” Well, you can imagine her despair, right? She was ready to cry and she’s been travelling now for the last twenty-four hours so she’s exhausted. She’s alone in a foreign country, her luggage is missing and now they tell her there’s no room at the hotel.
Two hours it took to get it sorted. At one point they found a room but because the booking was in my name and not hers they weren’t going to let her have it. Fortunately, the hotel manager got involved and saner heads prevailed. We did, by the way, eventually find her luggage but that’s a whole another story.
Now, if you have any sort of heart beating inside you, you’ll be feeling a bit sorry for poor old Jacqui. A bit like a lost soul in a foreign land, all alone with waves of exhaustion and despair crashing all over her. For her fortunately, it all worked out.
But if I now take you back to the old, old story, the first Christmas story, there was a couple who rocked up to Bethlehem for whom things didn’t work out so well – Mary and Joseph. They’ve come down to Bethlehem from their hometown of Nazareth, up north. A few hours by car these days, as we saw yesterday but for them it’s been a one to two week journey by foot perhaps with the aid of a beast of burden to carry the full term, very pregnant, almost due Mary but perhaps not.
It’s a journey that makes our twenty-four hour flight from Sydney to Chicago look like sheer luxury by comparison. They’re tired, they’re exhausted, they’re ready to get to their room and dive into the jacuzzi and relax, but let’s pick up their story.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration that was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered, Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea to the city of David called Bethlehem because he was descended from the house and the family of David.
He went to be registered with Mary to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them at the inn. (Luke 2:1-6)
Much of the nation of Israel was on the move at this time because of this wretched census ordered by the Emperor Augustus. So, there really was a convention in town when they arrived in that small village, as it was back then, the village of Bethlehem. They weren’t in downtown Jerusalem there on the Golden Mile but out of town in this hamlet. And frankly there weren’t a lot of five-star or even two or three star hotels available, those that were choc-a-block.
And so after, presumably, a few hours of schlepping around and discovering there wasn’t a room to be had anywhere some kind inn keeper, seeing Mary’s condition, offered them a shed out the back which housed animals. Now I don’t know, sheep, goats, maybe the odd cow if he was really wealthy.
Can you imagine how Mary’s heart sank when she entered that stable where she knew she would give birth? After that whole fanfare with the angel and falling pregnant, not the normal way but through the Holy Spirit? Hey, surely God was with her. Surely, God knew what was going on, His Son, the very Son of God is about to be born. “My son too!” Mary is thinking to herself and now I get a stinking stable?
Come on you women who have had children put yourself in Mary’s shoes, how do you feel? Not all that impressed, right? Your water’s break, the pain starts and you lie down on the floor of a stable that’s been pooped on and weed on by the assemblage of farm animals watching you give birth. Just fantastic.
I don’t know what you’re expecting of Christmas this year. It’s almost upon us and it’s supposed to be great. The world hypes it up as being a great celebration, Christians and Churches hype it up as being a great celebration. I don’t think that’s how it felt for Mary on that day and I know that’s not how it feels for a whole bunch of people today.
But let me tell you this … God was in that place with Mary. He was watching over her, He was with her and yes He chose a humble, uncomfortable place for His Son – the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, to be born as a man. God often chooses humble, uncomfortable places for His people. It’s just His way.
But no matter how uncomfortable it may be for you, no matter how God forsaken this place may seem in which you’ve found yourself, I want to tell you this, God is with you because Jesus on that first Christmas, Jesus came for you.
Do you remember what it was that the angel said to Joseph in his dream when he was explaining to him what had gone on with Mary falling pregnant? Matthew 1: 21-23:
‘She will bear a son’ said the angel, ‘and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins’. All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the Prophet ‘behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call him Emmanuel which means ‘God is with us.
Jesus is God on the journey with us.
Back in Chicago when Jacqui stood negotiating with those difficult hotel employees over the counter, she no doubt felt incredibly alone, lost in a foreign land. Her husband off in another city, completely uncontactable.
Perhaps, as you face whatever it is you’re facing the same thoughts race through your mind as no doubt went through Mary’s when she lay eyes on that crummy, stinking stable for the very first time. Doesn’t God get it? How can He let this happen to me? Why doesn’t He fix it?
And so you’re sitting here on this Christmas Eve wondering even what Christmas is all about. If that’s you, if that’s a bit of what you’re feeling right now, then I have just one word for you from the Lord, “Emmanuel”. God is with you. You are never alone.
And though He may have chosen circumstances for you right now that you may not have chosen for yourself, on this day, on this Holy day, know this … your God is with you and that beautiful wondrous truth, this truth that we are celebrating right now, at this time that we call Christmas, that truth is something that nothing and nobody can take away from you.
Your God is with you.