For the past couple years my family and I have had a tradition of taking our collection of Christmas movies off of the shelf, wrapping them up, and then, when we have time in the evening, opening one of the movies as a surprise and then watching it. We all have our favourites (my favourites are It’s a Wonderful Life and Nightmare Before Christmas), and wrapping them up keeps us from arguing about which one we should watch.
But no matter how good the Hollywood Christmas stories are, one of my favourite things to do during the season is to watching the children put on their Christmas play. Each time is special and they never get old.
The Story of Wally
I want to tell you a quick story* about another little boy who was involved in a Christmas play. His name is “Wally”. Wally was big for his age—seven years old. He was very friendly, very excitable and everyone liked him – but he was a slow learner. Wally’s family had only been coming to the church since summer, but now that the annual Christmas play was coming, everyone wondered what role the teacher would give him. He was on pins and needles as the teacher announced the roll. The rest of the Sunday School thought, “He’s too big to be a sheep because they give that roll to the little kids. Perhaps he could pull the curtain or light the lights.”
The director went down the list. Tommy would play Joseph. Clark, Jenny and Peter would be the Heavenly host. Mary would, of course, be Mary. And then, to everyone’s surprise the teacher gave Wally the role of the innkeeper. The boy of course was delighted. He even had a speaking part. All he had to learn was one line: “There is no room in the inn.” He practiced it every day before the big night. Even on the way to school he would repeat, “There is no room in the inn. There is no room in the inn.”
Then came the night of the program. The parents took their places. Every seat was filled. The children entered singing “Oh come all ye faithful.” The lights dimmed. A hush moved over the audience. The curtain opened. Mary and Joseph entered the stage and walked up to the large wooden door that was to represent the inn. They knocked on the door and Wally came out, dressed as the most perfect innkeeper you have ever seen.
In a loud, confident voice, Joseph looked at Wally and said, “Please sir, my wife is not well. Could we have a room for the night?”
Wally was ready for his line. He had rehearsed it all day long. He began loudly, “there is…” and he hesitated. He started over again a little quieter. “There is…” and again his mind went completely blank. His cheeks flushed red. His heart began to pound. Sweat began to form on his brow. Everyone in the auditorium was absolutely silent, feeling a little embarrassed for poor Wally who just didn’t know what to do.
After a moment, Joseph thought he would improvise and started walking away toward where the stable was set up on stage left. Wally looked at Joseph and seeing him walking away, in desperation called out: “Hey, there’s no room in the inn… but there’s lots of room at my house, so why don’t you just come on home with me!”
Redeeming The Innkeeper
Isn’t that a nice little twist on the familiar story, isn’t it? Over the years the characters in the Christmas story have become very clearly defined for most of us who hear it every year. King Herod is a villain, the wise men and the shepherds are heroes. But the Innkeeper—well, how do you see the Innkeeper? When you read the story, and after watching years and years of Christmas plays and movies, what image comes to mind when I say, “There was no room for them in the inn?”
Perhaps, in our minds eye, we envision a crotchety, old man – like Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Potter, or the Grinch – on his head is a nightcap, he wipes the sleep from his eyes, he stick his head out of his second story window grumbles: “There’s no room! Go sleep in the barn and leave me alone!”
The Bible doesn’t mention an innkeeper, but let’s assume there was. An “inn” in that day was more like a fortified campground with walls, towers, traders selling wares, and protection from marauders and thieves. Weary travellers could go there with their animals and know that, at least for one night, they would have water and be safe. There was a lot going on this night, and the place was packed beyond capacity. There was likely someone in charge of this resting spot.
And I think this poor man, this innkeeper, has gotten a bad rap. I want to redeem our poor innkeeper tonight. Consider that on that crazy, busy night in Bethlehem, when the entire Roman world was astir, and everyone was clambering for a place to say. Was it his fault that there were twelve rooms instead of thirteen? Was it his fault that Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that the entire world should be taxed, and that they would all come banging on his door? Was it his fault that Mary and Joseph were so late in arriving? If they would have come a couple days earlier… then maybe he would have had a room and he could have been a hero too! Hospitality was a serious responsibility and was expected in the Near East. It would have been very difficult for this man to turn away a very tired man and his young, frazzled, uncomfortable, very-pregnant wife.
So what did he do? Let’s use our imaginations for a moment. Joseph doesn’t know his way around. Mary is making some noises she’s never really made before and looks frightened. Joseph looks into the innkeepers eyes, desperate for something, anything. And what does the innkeeper do? Tradition says that Mary and Joseph stayed in a cave nearby that was being used as a barn. He made room for them. He found space. He figured out how it could work.
We’re all looking for meaning. What is the true meaning of Christmas. And as we chew on that it expands in our minds to “what is the meaning of life?” And then it gets personal and we ask, “What is the meaning of my life?”
I believe that if we want to discover the true meaning of Christmas, the meaning of life, and the meaning of our own lives, it comes down to what we have been talking about: making room for Jesus.
If the birth of Jesus is the true meaning of Christmas… and if Jesus is God in Flesh, Emmanuel, the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord – then He is the one gives meaning to life. Which means we must ask ourselves: if we really want to know why we are here, what our true purpose is, then are we prepared to make room for Jesus to tell us?
There’s something hopeful about Jesus being born in a humble cave on a busy night. It gives us hope because in the same way, when we look at our lives, our souls, perhaps we see the same business, harriedness, guilt, sin, darkness, uncertainty, that existed around Bethelhem that night. And then, like the Innkeeper, we make room for Jesus. We open our minds to considering his story, we open our hearts and ask for forgiveness and peace, we begin to pray for direction – and humbly, quietly, He comes to the place we give Him – however small… however dirty… however messy it is… and He blesses us, and miracles occur. Just like in the innkeeper’s stable. God took the small amount of room that was made for him and made something infinitely special happen there. God fit the Saviour of the world into the tiniest, little place.
Perhaps you are looking for a miracle in your life. Perhaps there are things in your life that you want to see fixed. Maybe there are broken relationships, financial problems, addictions, fears, stresses and anxieties that are overwhelming you. Maybe you have been seeking comfort in places that have been only making you feel worse. Maybe your heart is so full of hurt or pain or anger that you don’t know how to deal with it, and though no one sees it, every day is a struggle not to collapse under the weight of it… to lash out and hurt others… or to give up.
Maybe you are searching to find out the meaning of all of the things that have happened to you in your life. Maybe you don’t feel urgency, but when you step back and look at all the pieces of your life so far, you just don’t know how they fit together. What is your purpose? Where is your life headed? What is the meaning of my life?
To you I give the example of the Innkeeper: he made room. Make room for Jesus. Yes, He wants the whole of your life. He wants to change every part of you. He wants to completely forgive you, to recreate and renew you, to give you a new mind and heart, a new purpose and new desires – and promises to do so as you get to know Him more. But He’s willing to start with whatever small place you are willing to make room for him. He will bring miracles there. He will shine light there. He will show you meaning there.
Make room for Jesus tonight by talking to Him in prayer. Make room tomorrow by opening the Bible and reading the Christmas story. Make room this season by remembering and reflecting on why He came and what He has done for you. Make room for him each week by coming to church to learn more about Him and be around his people. Keep making room, and giving Him a little more room when He asks for it.
I promise that if you make room for Him, He will work miracles and give you exactly what you have been desiring. He will show you peace, love, joy, hope and the meaning that you long to see.
*The story of Wally was adapted from one I’d heard a long time ago. I don’t know the source and Google didn’t help.