1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
I wonder how many times we have read that passage of Scripture? How many manger scenes will the average person see in their lifetime? Hundreds? Thousands?
It is a scene that is unmistakable, despite the efforts in recent years to have it banned from display in public places because it might offend those who do not believe it ever happened. I can’t think when last I saw a proper Nativity scene outside of a Church context or a private home such as a shopping mall, but it remains one of the most famous and recognisable backdrops to the Christmas story.
One of my favourite cartoons is of a house all decked out in flashing lights with the words “Merry Xmas,” and a plastic Santa, reindeer and snowmen on the roof. The house next door has a simple manger scene in the garden, and the people in the first house are peering over the fence as they say, “Some people have to put religion into everything.”
The point is, that Jesus will just not go away. He remains as divisive a figure today as He was 2000 years ago.
The scene in Bethlehem is unmistakable. The scene is in a stable. Mary and Joseph and a wooden manger before them in which the baby Jesus is lying. Around them are shepherds with their crooks and with some sheep beside them.
This scene always touches our hearts, but what our sanitised scene does not represent is the fact that the stable would have been dirty and the smells not too appealing. Jesus was actually laid in a feeding trough for animals. The night air must have been cold - not the kind of place any of us would have liked to have been born in let alone to give birth in.
But that’s not the most important thing that is wrong with this scene. What is so wrong is that Jesus should not be in the stable in the first place. He did not belong in this sinful world because He is the eternal God, the second person of the Godhead, the one who rules over all. He belongs on His eternal throne of glory.
But because of His great love for us, He came. John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was His own.”
And since He did come, should He not at least have been born in a place that would represent who He is? Should He not have been born in the inn, possibly even in the royal suite if there was such a thing? Mary and Joseph should at the very least have been received as guests of honour.
Something seems very wrong about God being born in a stable.
God could have done something about it. He could have arranged things a little differently - after all He just has to say a word and all of creation comes into being, so it would have been very easy for Him to make better arrangements for the birth of His Son.
But Luke tells us there was no room for them in the inn, so Jesus was born in a smelly, unhygienic barn instead.
We know the background to the story.
Joseph, like every other Jew at the time, was compelled to return to his hometown for the Roman census. So he had to travel from Nazareth in Galilee where he and Mary lived, to Bethlehem in Judea. That’s a journey of about 150km. When all of these people arrived, every available spare bed in the town was taken. Even in the days when the culture dictated that people accommodate perfect strangers in their homes, by the time Joseph and Mary arrived, there was nowhere for them to stay. We’re not sure, but possibly because she was heavily pregnant, and found the long and arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem much harder than they thought it would be, it is quite possible that they arrived in Bethlehem much later than expected.
We always have an innkeeper in our children’s nativity plays, but there is no mention of him in the Bible, and his statement we’ve heard so many times, “Sorry, but there is no room in the inn,” but someone must have turned them away.
It must have been hard for Mary and Joseph. They would’ve been exhausted after their long journey. Add to that the fact that she was about to give birth, so they took the first place they could find.
They ended up in a stable which offered little or no comfort. God could have changed that, but He choose not to do so.
“He came to that which was His own.” That’s the part of the Christmas story which warms our hearts, but the second half of verse 11 is like a slap in the face: “But His own did not receive Him.”
He came. But He was and is rejected.
This is a pattern which has repeated itself throughout human history.
God created us to have fellowship with us. That’s the very purpose of our lives. According to the Westminster Catechism, and more importantly, according to the Scriptures we are to glorify God, and fully enjoy Him forever. But we have rejected that.
We see it over and over again in the Old Testament.
The people of Israel were in bondage in Egypt. God came to them through Moses and through miracles to rescue them. He led them through the desert in a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. He instructed them to build the Ark of the Covenant and He established the priestly tribe to remind them that He was always with them, but they rejected Him.
They would rather not have a God who tells them what is right and what is wrong, and like a rebellious child they flatly refused to take His advice as to what was best for them. At virtually every turn it seemed that they kept rejecting God’s leadership and authority in their lives.
This repetitive pattern of rejection continued throughout the Old Testament, as God’s chosen people had no room for God in the nation or in their lives.
Here we see just a glimpse of the long-suffering patience and grace of God.
How many times would God be rejected before He would stop coming to them? I believe it was Martin Luther who once said, “It’s just as well I’m not God. I would have destroyed the human race long ago.”
Because of His great love for us, God’s eternal plan of salvation was to send His Son, to come in flesh so that He can die for the sins of His people and take their place on the cross.
But still they rejected Him. The pattern of the Old Testament continued into the new, and nothing has changed in our day.
You would think that people would not reject someone who would bear the punishment for their sins, but they do. “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.”
What makes the coming of Christ into our world all the more incredible was that God has always known we would reject Him.
Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
The fact that there was no room for Jesus’ birth 2000 years ago is a picture and a reflection of the reality that there was no room for Him in this world.
He was rejected at His birth and He was rejected at His death. Yet, as He hung there on the Cross, bearing the weight of the sin of humanity on His shoulders, He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
As John Newton said towards the end of his life, “My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things - I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.”
Sadly, the rejection of Jesus continues today, but how would things be now if the events of 2000 years ago taken a slightly different turn?
The Bible doesn’t record the conversation with the innkeeper. We just know that Mary and Joseph were turned away. But what if the innkeeper had known who this was? He was a Jew who had been brought up learning the Old Testament prophecies of the promised Messiah. What if he had known who the new baby was? What if he had known the baby would be the one to save him? What if he had known this baby would be the one who could give him eternal life?
Would he have made room for Jesus?
Today we have the Word of God, the record of fulfilled prophecies and a 2000-year advantage over the innkeeper, or whoever it was that turned Joseph and Mary away.
We know who the baby was. We know Jesus was born that night, and we know He came to save us from our sins. We know He came to give us eternal life.
With all this extra knowledge and advantage we have over those who lived before the birth of Jesus and the innkeeper’s contemporaries, the big question is this: Do you have room for Jesus?
It’s very easy for us to sit here now in the 21stcentury and judge the innkeeper. It’s very easy for us to pass judgment on the baying crowd in Jerusalem crying out, “Crucify Him!” It’s very easy for us to criticise Pontius Pilate and say, “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see who this is?”
Yet, He is still rejected, and the question remains: Do you have room for Jesus?
Many of us have made room. There was a day when we felt the burden of our sin, when the awful truth dawned on us. We came to realise we were lost and bound for hell, but we heard that Jesus saves, and so we trusted Him as Lord and Saviour, and He saved us.
Many of you here today know the joy and peace of trusting in Christ to save you. You know the true meaning of Christmas. You have made room for Jesus and He has moved in, but maybe this is not true for everyone here this morning, even though you have heard the Christmas story many times before.
Picture this scene for a moment: Imagine it’s your birthday, and you have invited people to come to your party. There’s a sense of great excitement as you decorate the lounge, prepare snacks and you put up balloons and streamers all over the place.
All the invited guests arrive, and your presents are all piled up in the corner as this huge birthday cake is brought in. Everyone is wearing their little party hats, just waiting for the party to begin.
But just before the party starts, they ask you to leave. So you say, “But wait a minute. It’s my party! It’s my birthday!”
“But we don’t need you,” they reply in unison. “We can have the party without you.”
Isn’t that exactly what the world does today? They want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but they don’t want Him there. The reason they don’t want Him there is because once we recognise and acknowledge just who Jesus Christ really is, we have to admit that we are sinners in need of forgiveness.
This takes us all the way back to Genesis chapter 3. God warned Adam and Eve of the consequences of disobedience, but what did satan say? “You won’t surely die.” That is the lie that the world holds onto – the denial that there are consequences for our sin, and that we are beholden to the God who created us, so the cry is the same as our birthday party analogy. “We don’t need you. We can have the party without you.”
The agenda against the truth of God is gaining momentum all over the world, and our country is not exempt from this drive to get rid of any mention of the name Jesus Christ. (Except as a swearword, of course…)
As I said on Sunday, if we keep passing laws banning any mention of Christ, maybe He’ll just go away and leave us alone, so we won’t have to feel guilty about our sin any longer.
The secular world has no room for Jesus. They don’t want any representation or reminders of Him. They want to keep Christmas because they can have the party, but they want to take Christ out of Christmas, because if you leave Christ in Christmas, then you have to face the Cross of Calvary and all that it means to you.
When is the last time you saw a Christmas commercial in a magazine or on TV about Jesus? After all, it’s the season to be merry and jolly, so why would anyone want to talk about sin and salvation and heaven and hell at Christmas?
Let’s just leave Jesus out of Christmas, and there we are: problem solved.
The world wants peace and joy, but they don’t want Jesus. It has no room for Him.
Again, we can criticise the innkeeper, Pilate and all of those who were there calling for Jesus to be crucified. We can complain about the pagans in our parliament who are doing all they can to banish the truth of God in our country, and we can be angry when we see signs saying Merry Xmas or Happy Holidays. These things are nothing new, and should not surprise us, as the world has always rejected Jesus Christ, but what about each of us as individuals? What about you?
Do you have room for Jesus?
Maybe life is going reasonably well for you, and you don’t really see a need for a Saviour. Life is good, and you don’t need His promises. You don’t have room for His way of doing things because they don’t fit in with your way.
You don’t have room on the throne of your life because you want to sit there yourself.
Or maybe you have felt the stirring in your spirit. Maybe you do understand your need for Christ, but it’s just such a huge commitment that you’re not so sure. Are you telling Jesus to come back later? Are you telling Him to come back later, when you have more room?
Are you telling Him you still have so many things on your bucket list, so many things you want to do, before you will surrender your life to Him?
Your time is running out. There may not be another Christmas for you, or even another day.
One commentator has proposed that the reason there is no innkeeper named in the first Christmas story is so that instead of pointing our fingers at a real, historical figure, we have to look at ourselves and realise that each of us is the innkeeper of our own hearts.
“He came to that which was His own.” You need to make the choice. Are you going to give Jesus access to your life, or is there no room in your heart for Him? Are you among those who “did not receive Him?”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon is known as the prince of preachers. In his sermon preached on 21stDecember 1862 he said, “Have you room for Him? Never mind what the past has been; He can forget and forgive. It mattereth not what even the present state may be if thou mournest it. If thou hast but room for Christ, He will come and be thy guest. Do not say, I pray you, ‘I hope I shall have room for Him;” the time is come that He shall be born; Mary cannot wait months and years. Oh! sinner, if thou hast room for Him let Him be born in thy soul today. Room for Jesus! Room for Jesus now! ‘Oh!’ saith one, ‘I have room for Him, but will He come?’ Will He come indeed! Do you but set the door of your heart open, do but say, ‘Jesus, Master, all unworthy and unclean I look to Thee; come, lodge within my heart,’ and He will come to thee, and He will cleanse the manger of thy heart, nay, will transform it into a golden throne, and there He will sit and reign for ever and for ever.”
Will He come indeed! A modern translation of that promise is, you can bet your life on it! You are the innkeeper of your heart. Accept Him, and He will come.
Is there room in your heart for Emmanuel, God with you?