We all know the story of the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away. “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).
That innkeeper has been the subject of countless sermons and Christmas songs. Generally, he comes out on the “short end of the stick.” The innkeeper has become the metaphor for unbelievers in our time who are too busy, or too callused, or too insensitive, or too closed to truth to even care about Jesus. How uncaring! How uncaring he must have been to turn away a woman who was obviously ready to deliver her baby…probably a capitalist who was only thinking about profit and convenience…maybe he had just had enough, was tired of problems, and just didn’t want one more.
I suspect that, if the innkeeper had known the whole story, he would have made room in his inn. If he was savvy in marketing, he could have made a buck or two on it. If he really knew, he could have created a “Jesus Suite” and advertised it in the newspapers…maybe even put up a bronze plaque that read: “Jesus was born here.”
Then again, perhaps the innkeeper was not so crass. Maybe, if he had known, he would have made room in the inn and then joined the shepherds in their worship. Perhaps, if he had known, in later years he would have told his grandchildren that he had provided a room for the Savior. They would have been impressed. Lots of people would have been impressed with the sensitivity and the honor that, had he known, the innkeeper would have given to Joseph and Mary and their new baby.
But, in fact, he didn’t know.
When I read the Christmas story this time around, I didn’t focus so much on the shepherds, or Zechariah, or the wise men. They all knew; they all worshipped; they all understood. My focus—and believe it or not, my heart—was turned toward the innkeeper, not because he was so bad but because he was so lost and didn’t know it.
So, if you will permit me, during this Christmas season, I want to say a good word about the unbelievers—the innkeepers of the world—who just don’t know.
They aren’t such a bad sort.
I know. I know. They have secularized Christmas and taken it from the believers. We have (according to the supreme court of the land) created a holiday around Christ’s birth, one that has become so pagan that we are allowed to celebrate it because it has long since ceased to be “sectarian and Christian.” Thus we have permission (because it no longer has religious overtones) to celebrate it in our public institutions.
We have come to celebrate a holiday that has no meaning…sort of a celebration to celebrate. The happy feelings are, well, just happy feelings about happy feelings. We give gifts to one another because, well, just because. We have parties to have parties. No reason. It’s just something we, as a culture, have decided to do. After all, it is winter—Christmas breaks the monotony and gives us a reason to have another drink.
How could they have done this to us? Don’t they know that wise men still seek him? Don’t they know that we measure our time before and after the birth of Jesus Christ? Don’t they understand the importance of the incarnation? Don’t they know that Jesus loves them?
No, frankly, they don’t. And herewith, at Christmas, is my brief for unbelievers. Maybe it is a reflection of the “burden” God is beginning to give me.
I’ve been thinking about it and decided that it is wrong for those of us who are Christians to be upset that unbelievers have such a good time at Christmas.
Fred Smith told me once that Christians know unbelievers aren’t going to have any fun after they die…so we want to take the fun away from them before then.
When I was small I remember driving through some of the poorer neighborhoods of our town. We drove past the shacks of those who couldn’t afford nice homes and probably couldn’t afford food. Sometimes we would see a television antenna on the roofs of those dwellings. (Those were the days when only the affluent could afford television.) Someone would inevitably say, “Will you look at that! Can you believe it? They can’t even afford food and a decent place to live but they have a television?”
On those occasions my mother, with great wisdom and compassion, would say, “We should not begrudge the poor a television. It is perhaps their only escape from what must be a very hard life.”
Maybe we should think something like that about unbelievers’ celebration of Christmas. They don’t understand but I’m glad they’re finding a respite from what must be a very hard life. They don’t know about Jesus and how much better it would be if they knew. They simply don’t know. So, I’m glad for their parties and their fun. I’m happy that Jesus (even if they don’t know him) has provided them with an excuse to be happy…if only briefly.
But on the other hand, one of the reasons they don’t know is because we—with our super-serious, spiritual and godly remembrance of Christmas—have given the impression that if the “innkeepers” of the world only knew what we knew, they would be as miserable and as intense as we are.
Maybe they don’t know because we decided that Christmas was certainly not a time to be happy and to celebrate.
Every year (generally when I mention that I’m married to “Miss Christmas Spirit”) I get letters from people who say that Christians have blasphemed (or something like that) Christ by celebrating with a tree and presents…which, as all good Christians ought to know, are pagan practices.
I always answer their questions with the serious comment that when we use pagan symbols in our celebration of Christian events, we are demonstrating the fact that Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. Often I will say that pagan symbols are quite appropriate because Christ has conquered and he who conquers is always free to use the spoils from those who have lost the war.
But that isn’t what I want to say. What I want to say is this: Will you lighten up a bit? You’re causing Jesus to blush. If you must be so somber, go do it in a cave somewhere. You’re blocking the light.
That is a long way “around the barn” to say something important: I hope you have a joyous and wondrous time this Christmas. It is my prayer that you rejoice and laugh and sing so much so that your Christmas parties make unbelievers’ parties look like funerals.
After all, we have reason to celebrate: God demonstrated his unconditional love for us that first Christmas, Christ has come, and we are forgiven and loved.
In fact, innkeepers may even want to check out our party…
Time to Draw Away
Read Isaiah 9:2-7, Matthew 5:14-16 & John 8:12
Are you blocking the light or reflecting it? How can you share your celebration of Christmas with unbelieving friends and family? Christmas is good news. In his coming, God loves us, forgives us and accepts us as his own. It all started with Christmas. So lighten up.