No Room at the Inn

I have just been reflecting on Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus and as always I find myself rejoicing at the ways of God.

I find it amazing how God would use a decree by Caesar Augustus demanding a census to insure that Joseph and Mary end up in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.  Prophecy is fulfilled!  It does seem a touch incongruous that God didn’t manage to arrange suitable accommodation for Mary as she faced the pain and difficulty of labour.  Of course, even this was a part of God’s plan, though I can imagine Mary might well have questioned God’s lack of provision.

It is hard to think that God would have arranged the birth of his Son in such inconspicuous circumstances.  And then when the angels announced the birth of the Messiah, instead of finding some rich people, or Caesar and his retinue, or even the religious leaders of the time, they proclaim the Good News to a bunch of nobody shepherds on the hills of Judea.  In our day an age it would be like choosing to introduce yourself to a bunch of factory workers rather than appearing on Oprah.

It made me wonder at the Christian obsession with buildings to worship in.  The amount of money that we Western Christians put into our meeting places and the amount of time, prayer and discussion that goes into insuring that our places of worship are comfortable, inspiring, modern etc seems rather at odds with this visitation of God.  That God himself would choose to manifest his glory in a cave or stable throws into serious questions some of our concerns.  Likewise, that the first invited guests are not people of power or influence really seems quite counter intuitive.  Will any one listen to a bunch of shepherds telling stories about angels and a baby born in a shed?  Who would believe that the greatest visitation of God could happen in such an obscure way?

It makes me all too aware of how often I have wasted time seeking out God in all the wrong places.  I must have been crazy believing for years that I would somehow encounter God’s glory more substantially in opulent buildings filled with well-dressed people listening to carefully produced music.  To think that people in expensive suits with international reputations could somehow reveal more to me about this Messiah born in humility and deliberate vulnerability was also madness.  What is it within us that continue to be drawn away from the foolishness of God to the wisdom of people?  Why are we still enamoured with the temptations of Satan even when they appear in Christian guise?

Last year I had the best Christmas ever.  My wife and I took some of Jesus’ words seriously and invited people to join us who would have no one to spend their Christmas with.  We invited many who could never afford to repay us.  God turned up.  Interestingly enough, it wasn’t just the poor and the destitute that came.  We even had a wealthy family from my son’s school that have no family in Australia.  For some, it was the first Christmas they had had with others in years.  When I asked a ‘new immigrant’ mother what the cause of the tears streaming down her face was, she explained that it was the first Christmas her family had had all together in years.  In previous years due to work or hardship the family has been split up and so Christmas has simply highlighted their pain.  For me, that alone was enough to have made it all worthwhile.

As my wife and I considered whether to do similar this year the way forward became obvious.  The wife from the wealthy family contacted us asking whether Christmas was on again at our house and if they might be welcome again.  A gay man who recently attempted suicide told me that he didn’t know whether he would have anyone to spend Christmas with.  Another gay man with long term drug dependency issues asked whether he might join us again this year.  He was one who had also previously spent years of previous Christmas’s by himself.  The face of a former escort who has recently become a Christian brightened up as we explained our idea to her.

Last year at our Christmas party, whilst there is no question that the language used by some wasn’t always wholesome, I suspect that some also drank more than was good for them, people from all walks of life gathered together.  There were tears, there was conversation, there was prayer and there was even witness to Jesus as people shared their lives with one another.  We even had a baptism as my youngest son and an ex prostitute were baptised on the beach.  For those with eyes to see God’s glory was manifest in an ordinary home in an ordinary suburb in Perth.

I am so glad that God is changing my perspective on where I need to look in order to find him.  It was so much work and so expensive before, trying to seek him in all the wrong places with all the wrong people.  I am glad that he sent his son to be born in a shed, because no suitable rooms were available.  I am glad that the first announcement of the birth of the Messiah was to a bunch of shepherds on the Judean hills and not to the powerful or the religious elite.  Maybe there is a chance that God might once again make his presence felt this Christmas where we least expect it and amongst those who feel the most unworthy.  Keep your eyes and hearts open and be prepared to join Jesus wherever and in whatever way he chooses to be found.