“At that time Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.” Luke 2:1-7 GNT
During this holiday season, and for as many as I can remember now, we’ve all heard the admonishment to “keep Christ in Christmas”. This is a decades old response to the commercialization of Christmas. A response to the beginnings of consumer Christianity threatening to take over Christmas. At some point it got drafted into the culture wars and has been reduced to little more than a battle cry.
She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn. Yes, I’m back to the them of no room at the inn. Because during this time of advent, this time of preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, the biggest challenge we face is not keeping the Christ in Christmas. I’m going to borrow again from Pastor Brian Zahnd, who himself took it from someone else, but the biggest challenge we face is not keeping Christ in Christmas. The biggest challenge we face during this time is how to keep the Christ in Christians.
We have no room at the inn, no room for Christ. We know the story, Mary and Joseph had to travel to be registered for the census, and she was with child with the baby Jesus. When they got to Bethlehem, there was an inn. But of course, there was no room at the inn, so Jesus couldn’t be born at the inn. This has been thought over, talked about and portrayed in many different ways over the years. Sometimes the innkeeper is portrayed as heartless and callous, completely without sympathy for the young man and his expectant bride. He’s seen as kind of harsh soup nazi character who yells at the two “NO ROOM FOR YOU!” So they then wind up in the cold with the animals.
Or sometimes the innkeeper is portrayed as a sympathetic character, a guy working hard trying to make a living. He sees the young couple and simply has no room in his inn, but offers for them to stay with the animals. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s shelter and hey, it’s all he’s got.
Bottom line is this – when Jesus was born there was no room at the inn. So Jesus was born where there was room for him, in the stable with the animals, to lie in a manger in swaddling clothes.
Advent is the season when we prepare for the birth of Christ. It’s not just the celebration, the gathering with family, the Christmas dinner, the exchanging of our best gifts. It’s also about our preparing for Him to be born into our lives in new ways. It’s about us making room in our hearts for Him to come into our own little world. If we want Christ to be born into our lives in fresh new ways during we must prepare room for Him to be born into our hearts. Christian repentance is the act of making room for Christ to born into our lives in new ways.
What is it that we need to rearrange in our lives to make room for Jesus? To take in a pregnant girl and her husband, you gotta make room. You gotta make some arrangements. What’s cluttering up our hearts keeping us from making room for Jesus in our lives??
Here in 21st America, we have many different things crowding Jesus out of our lives. Not trying to be self righteous, condemning or accusing here, just about all if these I struggle with myself, but here’s a short list of things which might be filling up our hearts and minds and crowding Jesus out of our little inn.
1). Busy-ness. One letter removed from business. This is the sin we all take pride in committing. By that I mean we all claim to know it’s wrong to live this way, to be so busy you crowd out some many important things from your life. We say we know it’s a problem, but even though it’s a problem we are proud to have this problem. We brag about it. “I’m sooo busy!!” And trust me…”I’M SO BUSY!!” We are so busy…aren’t we all just so important?? We claim to know it’s wrong, I claim to know it’s wrong. Yet we strive for it. We aim for it. Even if we’re not really all that busy, we want to be able to say “I’m so busy!!”
We are almost a completely non-contemplative society. To slow down to just be with Christ is just un-American, isn’t it? We would much rather be able to boast in our busy-ness. Why do we boast about it? We don’t boast about other sins in our lives. “I’m such a liar!” “I stole so many things today!”
If we don’t rake the time for reading scripture, meditating, contemplating, if we don’t take time to meditate and contemplate in prayer, if we don’t take the time to sit with Jesus, there is almost no chance for him to be born into our lives in a new way. It takes time. Our sin of busy-ness can crowd prayer and Jesus right out of our lives. But…we are Americans!! We gotta be productive all the time, don’t we?? But what are we missing out on? We have to make room in our inn, we must repent of our sin of busy-ness in our lives to make room for Jesus.
2). Politics. Um, yes. Politics is bad for your soul. Partisan politics is poison for your soul. Politics itself is necessary. We must govern ourselves to be a civil society. What is not necessary is to obsess, worry and argue over politics.
Few things have been more poisonous American Christianity than the addiction to 24 hour news. Once upon a time…in a galaxy far far away 😉…we were all able to get along politically. Before the internet, before CNN, before Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity, we were able to sit a table with those on the opposite political persuasion, even on election night, and be civilized. That is gone. Period. Even among Christians. Addiction to cable news has given us a very ugly Christianity.
You do not have to be a political junkie to be a responsible citizen. Remember the fruit of the spirit?? “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 ESV. If you have Christ in you and live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, you will do just fine as a citizen. You do not have to obsess, argue and watch the 24 hour news to be a good citizen.
But, you can not be a political junkie and a responsible Christian. If you are a political junkie and constantly watch the 24 hour news, you will get sucked into our team sport approach to politics. You will get sucked into the us vs them mentality, you will be sucked into our scorched earth political culture, where we must win at all costs even if we destroy what we claim we are fighting for. And scorched earth politics squeezes Jesus right out of our hearts. It leaves no room in our inn.
3). Anger. Or wrath. Or fury. Whatever word you want to use, and angry heart has no room for Jesus. We live in an age where the angry rant is considered a high art form. But remember what the apostle Paul says – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 NIV. Just because the world around us is angry down not mean we are to respond in anger. We are not to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind in Christ Jesus.
To hold rage and anger in our hearts crowds Christ out, leaving no room at the inn.
Sometimes we like to think that we might be angry, but it’s wrath of God angry. Let’s be simple – our human rage is not the divine wrath of God. We like to compare ourselves to Jesus in the temple, where we tell ourselves Jesus just “lost it!” “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Fatherʼs house into a market!”” John 2:14-16 NIV. First – you are not Jesus. You are probably not LIKE Jesus. Second – let’s say what this is NOT – this is NOT Jesus “losing it” and angrily chasing people out of the temple. So he made a whip out of cords…he made a whip, from scratch, braiding the cords together. Jesus did this in premeditated fashion. He didn’t “lose it.” It was a prophetic protest of profiteering in the temple. Also – and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He drove the sheep and cattle. The people may have followed, but He was not whipping and chasing people, as this is often depicted. What Jesus is doing is an orchestrated, planned, prophetic reenactment of Jeremiah chapter 7. “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 7:11 NIV.
Our human rage does not in some way make us Christ like. Paul tells us our human wrath is a work of the flesh – “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” Galatians 5:19-20 ESV. Paul ehaorts his followers over and over again, to be gentle and peaceable, not angry and raging. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18 ESV
If you have to be angry in your heart to work for justice, you do not have the fullness of Christ in you heart. Conservatives are driven by conservative anger. Liberals are driven by liberal anger. Christians are driven by the peace of Christ.
If Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu had been driven by anger, we would have never even heard of them. Instead, they were driven by the love of Christ, and in very real ways they changed the world.
4). Greed. This one is too easy. We all know it. Consumerism is the great Golden Calf of American Christianity. Golden calf?? it’s our great running of the Golden Bulls!! Jesus told us “”No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 ESV. We can not serve God and money. We know this because Jesus told us. Or do we?? In reality, we’ve (as in Christianity) spent the last 2000 years trying to figure out exactly how Jesus was wrong here. We know He’s not wrong, but we try to figure it out anyway.
That’s because we love our money. We can not serve God and money. So…we choose money. We like money. Money makes us feel good. Money makes us feel secure. We can buy nice things.
We are good at making money in America. We are good at business. But…we are children of God. We have a family business. Mankind is our business. The common welfare is our business. Charity, mercy, and benevolence is our business. Faith, hope and love are our business. Our trade, how we make a living, is just a drop in the bucket for the big picture of our lives.
It’s how we live our lives that shows whether we love God or money.
Busy-ness, politics, anger and greed. Four of the greatest American idols. Repent of these sins and make room in your hearts. Make room in your inn. Make room to keep Christ in Christians.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Luke 2:7 ESV