"There was no room for them in the inn." —Luke 2:7
"Yet there is room." —Luke 14:22
Years ago, when the Germans invaded the Low Countries, the officials of a small Belgian community prepared to flee. Their village church contained a famous Van Dyck painting of Christ,, and to save this treasure, the burgomaster and his wife loaded it on a truck and started for Southern France. During their whole hazardous journey they found no welcome for the priceless painting of the Savior, no roof under which the masterpiece could be sheltered. Because the weather was cold and stormy, they used its large frame and canvas as a shelter from rain and wind, until, months later, it was safely housed.
As I wish every one of you not a merry Christmas (for who, considering the American lives lost hourly in the war, the souls constantly endangered in the present conflict, can be merry in a carnal, careless way?) but a blessed, Christ-centered Christmas in your soul and family circle, I remind you that this Belgian incident represents on a small scale the startling contradiction continuously in progress since the first Christmas. Millions have closed the door of their hearts and homes to Jesus; yet in His unfathomable love He still stretches forth His hands with the invitation of love "Come unto Me." The striking contrast of nineteen centuries is summarized in this mystery of mercy and misbelief: the double truth of our Christmas text: first, the words of Saint Luke, chapter two, verse seven, "There was no room for them in the inn;" and then the Savior's pledge of peace, Saint Luke, chapter fourteen, verse twenty-two, "Yet there is room."
I SINFUL MEN REFUSE TO RECEIVE THE SINLESS CHRIST CHILD
Before the war the newspapers described a $5,000 crib made for a baby born into one of Europe's royal families. Five thousand dollars' worth of carving, metal work, studded jewels, and artistry all for a human child! Yet, when Jesus, sinless and stainless, born of a virgin by a marvelous miracle, came into the world, His parents had not even a plain cot on which He could lie. They laid Him in a manger, the feeding trough of animals. You have seen that manger glorified on Christmas postcards as an ornate bed, bright with dazzling colors, pictured in a pillared, vaulted room. Famous painters have reproduced it as a substantial piece of furniture, not unlike the little crib in which perhaps you were cradled, and have depicted worshiping angels and celestial musicians hovering about it. But how utterly different the poverty of the Savior's birth! Most of you cannot imagine the conditions in that stable where the King of kings came into this world. His birthplace was probably a cave dug into a hill outside the inn, a stable for beasts of burden; a dirty, smelly place that few American communities would tolerate.
Why was the Lord of glory born an outcast? Our text explains, "There was no room for them in the inn," and no willingness to accommodate them, we may add. It was every man for himself in those days, and men before women, particularly women with children. We may assume that, if "there was no room . . . in the inn" probably no resting place in the 'little town" was available on that Christmas Eve. Modern Bethlehem has only 8,000 inhabitants- in the Savior's day it may have been only one-tenth as large. Who among the villagers would be interested and warmhearted enough to shelter a couple that expected a baby within a few hours? Who would bother with them when it would be so much more convenient to rent space to others in the crowd registering for the census? Mary and Joseph may have had friends or even relatives in Bethlehem, but apparently all doors were barred to them. The priests, the Levites, the scribes, the Pharisees, the businessmen, the traders, the workmen, the shrewd housewives all those "of the house and lineage of David? who had come to Bethlehem at the decree of Caesar Augustus and his governor never dreamed that they could have accepted the most startling opportunity for service mortal man has ever known, the privilege of providing quarters for the promised Christ Child, the Redeemer of mankind. If they saw Mary and Joseph, they doubtless raised their proud heads higher, the more disdainfully to look down on the couple that had come from despised Galilee at such an inappropriate time.
The whole Christmas story, despite its Palestinian setting and its distance in time, has modern and American counterparts. We read that all the people had enrolled for taxation, and we begin to compute our new taxes, the highest in American history, levied for the year drawing to its close, with more people than ever before making returns. As we see Mary and Joseph on the road, traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we think of the tremendous military and industrial movements in the United States that have made many of you journey far and often, that today station you soldiers and defense workers away from home. Recalling the crowded conditions in Bethlehem, we survey the many overcrowded American communities, where some of you now hear this Christmas message in cramped quarters, trailer camps, furnished rooms. When you find the Holy Family surrounded by unsympathetic people, you will be inclined to draw comparisons with die fact that you, too, are a stranger in a strange place, that no one has paid attention to you, except those who can make money through your patronage. Yet it seems to me that the most striking similarity between the first Christmas and this anniversary is the rejection of Jesus. Multitudes still have no room for Him. Before we begin to denounce the unfriendly citizens of David's City, we should admit that masses in America, had Mary and Joseph come to their homes this morning, would have refused to welcome them. More than half our population has heard of Christ's merciful love; millions celebrate the day of His birth intensively and speak His name in holiday greetings; yet consistently, year after year, they have closed their hearts to Him, saying in effect, "There is 'no room in my shriveled, hate-filled, care-crowded soul for that Child in the manger."
With all the modern cries for tolerance, too many show the bigotry of Bethlehem. There is still "no room" for Christ's love; else why would this generation bleed its best power away in a second World War? "No room" for His humility; else why would half of this earth hear Him say, "Blessed are the peacemakers" but be forced to follow Nietzsche as he cries out in contradiction, "Blessed are the war makers"? "No room' 9 for His holy Word in modern culture, where experts would train our children without reverence for God and faith in His Bible! "No room" for our Lord's creed of self-denial, when certain modern magazines feature page after page, picture after picture, paragraph after paragraph of profanity and indecency, but not a single sentence regarding this ageless message, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord"! "No room" for the promise of His cross and His blood, when more Americans reject Him than ever before; when theological professors, contradicting the holy angel's anthem, "He shall save His people from their sins'' deny that the Child in the manger is our Immanuel, our God-with-us; when many American churches do not once open their doors on Christmas Day! "No room" for the Nativity mercy, which promises us that we are saved through humble, penitent, trusting faith in the Babe of Bethlehem as our Lord and our Redeemer, while great religious bodies deny this center and climax of our faith, "By grace are ye saved'!
A pointed, personal issue confronts you: Jesus, the Christ Child of Christmas, in this moment seeks entrance into your heart. Will you turn away from Him because your soul is saturated with the driving desire for money? Fresh in our minds is the account of a merchant-marine sailor who had secured a thousand dollars, perhaps more money than he had ever owned in his life, a sum so impressive that his heart was closely attached to this treasure, carefully stored in his locker. His ship was torpedoed, and after he was rescued, he admitted that in those perilous hours he had never even thought of his thousand dollars. In the crisis moments of life, if you have rejected Jesus, you have lost more than money can ever buy. You have sacrificed your soul's salvation. This is Christ's warning, "He that believeth not shall be damned." The Christmas appeal, above eating and drinking, giving and receiving, visiting and being visited, lighting and decorating, the plea that comes from the very manger of the Christ Child, asks you: "Make room for Jesus! Grant Him entrance into your heart! Welcome Him into your home!"
II THE SINLESS CHRIST CHILD ALWAYS WELCOMES SINFUL MEN
Although "there was no room" for Christ at Bethlehem's inn "yet there is room" as the second part of our festival text explains room for you in His heart of love, in His Kingdom of Grace, in His Father's heavenly mansions. At His manger crib "there is room' for every sinner, especially the desperate and downtrodden, including those of you who write me tear-stained letters declaring that the transgressions of the past rise up to disturb you, waking or sleeping. When you come to Jesus in faith and He comes to you in His mercy, He removes the curse of your sin. He washes away its stain. The fire of His devotion burns away your iniquity. The power of His presence purifies your heart and strengthens your life. Take courage and believe on this Christmas Day that nothing can keep you from Bethlehem and the forgiveness in the newborn Savior but your own impenitence, your refusal to accept the Christ Child's promise of full, free, and final pardon!
At the manger "there is room 9 for all, regardless of race restrictions or color classifications, "There is room" aplenty for friend and foe, since the Infant Jesus is the world's Savior. He was born and He died so that all men, regardless of how completely they may be segregated into opposing groups, might be saved. During the First World War, Christmas came to a Russian war prison camp in Siberia. Up to that time it had been the scene of homesickness, misery, hatred, and despair. Suicide had been frequent. But when the prisoners and their guards gathered in the half-underground barracks for the Christmas celebration, the leader arose to say, "There is one song all can sing tonight, "Silent Night, Holy Night." They sang it, both the guards and the prisoners, each man in his own language. When they were finished, the Russian commander's eyes filled with tears as he told the captives, "Tonight is the first time in more than a year that I have been able to forget you and I are supposed to be enemies." If you, too, will acclaim Bethlehem's Babe in faith and trust, your hatred will shrivel away, and in new joy you will be able to worship the Savior who commanded, "Love your enemies!"
"There is room" at Bethlehem for the poor, unnoticed, un acclaimed, just as the Savior's birth was first announced to the shepherds, lowly laborers. Joseph Mohr, who wrote the beloved lines of "Silent Night, Holy Night," lived a humble, unpretentious life. He died within twelve miles of the place where he was born; yet his Christmas carol has sung its way around the world. And the Christ whose "strength is made perfect in weakness" can likewise save you for important purposes, no matter how little attention the world pays you. Indeed, the plain and underprivileged have always been especially welcomed by His mercy.
"There is room" at the manger for those who feel themselves lonely, forsaken; particularly for the families in which a son has laid down his Me for the nation's defense. How hard the Christmas festivities seem to you when contrasted with the sorrow burdening your heart almost to the breaking! This anniversary of your Savior's birth has graciously dawned for you, to give you the Heaven-granted assurance that through the Christ Child "your sorrow shall be turned into joy" Before this day ends, select some quiet spot and read Saint Luke's story of the Nativity! Read it aloud! Read it prayerfully! It contains only 412 words, and it will take only a few moments. While you read, be fortified by believing that all this is written to show you that the Savior's promise, "Yet there is room" holds assuredly for you, in the love that knows no limit, the grace that recognizes no bounds.
Often in the history of these last nineteen centuries Christmas has been a time of mighty conversion. Today, when God uses this radio to offer you "His unspeakable Gift" His own incarnate Son, picture the blessings which come with this Gift the washing away of your sins, the salvation of your soul, the defeat of death, the assurance of heaven, the reunion with your loved ones in the realms of celestial glory; all these blessings which Saint Paul lists as "the fruit of the Spirit": "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance"! Then, as the Christ Child appeals for room in your heart, asking, "Where is the guest chamber?" answer with the trusting faith of Martin Luther's Christmas carol:
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee!
Do not be satisfied with a second-best, shoddy welcome! Years ago in a Scotch village an old lady stepped from a pony carriage, walked to a workman's cottage, and politely asked for a glass of water. Only reluctantly the housewife agreed, showing her displeasure by bringing the water in a cracked cup. After the visitor had gone, a neighbor ran over to exclaim, "Do you know who that old lady was?" You can imagine her dismay to be told, "She was Queen Victoria!" That cracked cup is still held in high esteem, though it should be a sign of perpetual reproach. Let our welcome to Jesus be genuine, wholehearted, soul-sincere! Earth's Savior, heaven's King, has come to you! Give Him the best you have, the best you are, and the best you can be by His grace! While we cannot receive Him in the flesh, yet He promises concerning our charities, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me" Before this holy day is over, resolve to share what God has given you with your poor, suffering, destitute fellow men!
Especially, however, may we, having received Jesus and made room for His redeeming love, bring the message of His grace to others! If you feel that the circle of your influence is too small for your testimony to bless many, remember. His Word never returns void! Church papers tell us of an American missionary who spent last Christmas in jail, imprisoned by the Japanese. The bars and barricades could not restrain his spirit, and on that holiday morning through the prison stillness he whistled "Silent Night," "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful," and other carols, until the guard demanded that he stop. Yet the next day one of the prisoners whom he happened to pass braved the wrath of the prison officials by whispering to the missionary, "Thank you for Christmas!" And if your testimony to die Savior rings clear, wherever you may be, you can strengthen and fortify the faith of others.
When the trans-Atlantic cable was completed, the first message flashed from continent to continent by the marvel of that invention ended with the angels' chorus at Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!" By the greater marvel of the radio, may this same message now speed its way over all natural boundaries of mountains, rivers, lakes, seas, and find room in your heart! From shore to shore let us unite in exulting, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men," all through the Christ Child for whom et there was no room" at His birth, but through whom, by the rebirth of faith, we find eternal room!
God grant every one of you this Christmas blessing!