No Room In The Inn

This past Saturday morning I gave a Christmas talk to a group of street boys who had come out for the weekly feeding.  They were familiar with the message already.  The talk was interactive –the boys volunteered many of the answers, and asked questions as we went along.  But the part of the talk that caught their attention the most – the place in the story where we spent the largest amount of time talking – was the section that says “There was no room for them in the inn.”

Some of the questions the street boys had were relatively simple.  One of the boys said, “Joseph was a carpenter.  So why didn’t he just build them a home for Jesus to be born in?”  I reminded him that Joseph and Mary were traveling in Bethlehem.  Joseph could have built a home – but they were only in the area for a short time, and Mary probably went into labor rather suddenly.

But not all of the questions were so easy.  One really struck me.  One boy wanted to know “Why would God allow His Son to be born outside of the house?  God could have done something for His Son.  He could have made a way for Him to be born inside.  Why didn’t He?”

For a street child – this is the ultimate question.  “Why didn’t God do something for the baby Jesus – so that he could be born inside?  Why doesn’t God do something for me?  Why does He let me sleep outside?”

The question was hard.  But my answer was simple (I hope it was not too simplistic).  I said “God could have done something.  But it was actually His will that His Son would be born outside.  God chose to have Jesus born outside – because if He had been born inside maybe people would have thought that Jesus came for rich people.  Jesus was not born in a mansion.  Jesus was not born like Kenyatta, or Obama.  Jesus was born poor.  And this was God’s way of saying, ‘I am sending Jesus for street children.  I want them to know that Jesus is not too good for them.  I want Jesus to be born outside the house – so they will know that My Son came to be the savior of street children.’  God wanted street boys to know that Jesus was born just like them:  Poor.  Jesus came as a poor person – so that no one would ever think that Christianity was the rich man’s religion.”

But, there is another truth from the Christmas story – one that I did not discuss with the street boys this last Saturday.  This truth does not apply to them so much as it applies to those who will read this post.  This truth applies to me and you.

This Christmas I have been thinking about how it is that God regularly sends us His Son – in the rags of poverty.  Just as Jesus was originally born, and laid in a manger – so too God sends Him to us every year.  By suffering His Son to be born a poor child – without means, without resources – God was hiding His Son in the shroud of poverty.  

It was as if God was saying, “However this place receives the non-descript poor child – that is how they receive my Son.  Let him not come in the garments of kings.  Let Him be unknown.  Let Him be obscure.  Let the knock on the door be that of a pregnant teenager in need.  Let the request come from a carpenter who, at least for one night, has no ability to provide for his family.  And however that home, that man or woman, receives the poor – that is how they receive my Son.”

For this reason – the Christmas story is alive.  It is lived out year by year, season after season, holiday upon holiday.  You and I are in the story - we are characters in the narrative.  Our home is the home to which the holy family has come.  Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus arrive knocking on the door of our house at inopportune times – in the midst of censuses and family gatherings – when the house is already crowded, and the beds are already taken. 

The child in the manger has no halo.  He is dressed in rags. 

He could be any poor child.  He is every poor child. 

For what God is seeking to discern from us is whether we will receive the one who has nothing.  Will we bring Him inside?  In so doing, we bring Christ in.  In not doing so, we leave Him out.

So this Christmas, watch for Him.  This Christmas remember that you need a Savior-King.  And that Savior-King will come to you.  That is the very meaning of Christmas.

He will come to you - not because you are worthy – but precisely because you are unworthy.  However, your Savior will not come to you riding on a King’s horse.  He will not appeal to you wearing a crown.  This Christmas – He will come to you as a child in rags.  The salvation of your soul will require you to see something that is invisible.  When You receive your Savior this holiday you will receive Him in the form of a traveling carpenter, a teenage mother, a street child.  You will receive him only if you can see what the world does not see:  A Savior-King of infinite power, coming to you in ultimate weakness.

I pray that you will see Christ this holiday – and that you will receive Him into your home.  I pray that the King will reveal Himself to you.  I pray that you will find the Savior this Christmas.  But when you do, you will not find Him dressed in fine raiment.  You will not find Him resting in King’s palaces, or eating fine food at Christmas banquets, or making cheerful toasts at holiday parties.  You will find Him waiting outside the very door of your home.  You will find Him dressed in rags, holding out His hand to you in need.  You will find your mighty Savior has come to you in the lowliest form He could take upon Himself.  You will find Him dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

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Finding Your Life

One year ago, on June 3, I sat out on a journey in which I found my life.  To be more technical, I went on a pilgrimage.  I traveled for a little over 50 days, mostly in Kenya and in Israel.  This was a focused trip.  I had some sense already that God might be leading me to one of the two places.  But, it was not clear.

Pilgrimage is a lost spiritual quest.  Evangelicals don’t do it very much any more.  I suppose we think it is a Catholic thing, or maybe even Muslim.  We believe God is everywhere.  And of course, He is.  So, why go in search of Him?

But, just because God is everywhere doesn’t mean that we should not grope for Him, or seek for Him.  Just because God has set for us the times and boundaries of our habitation, long before we came to be, does not mean that it is not fitting to occasionally intentionally see if the boundaries set might be a bit broader than we originally thought. 

I think the main reason that we do not more often go on pilgrimage is fear.  We must plunge into insecurity.  I remember literally thinking to myself last year, “Well, I suppose it is a bit more dangerous.  The likelihood of being abducted or blown up by terrorists is much higher in a place like Nairobi and Jerusalem.”  (If only I had known that I would literally have bombs flying over my head in the Holy City, and that Kenya would experience a new wave of terrorism when I moved to Africa….). 

But, more than we are afraid of entering the unknown – I think we are afraid of leaving the known.  I think we are afraid that God is going to take us away from something we hold dear.  A real pilgrimage wrecks idols.  A real pilgrimage is an intentional distancing of yourself from your life, in order to find your life.

We cannot bear the thought.  What if God calls me away from that person?  What if He takes me away from that job?  What if He removes me from the ministry that has come to define me?  What if I have to leave my extended family?  What if He shatters that friendship? that career? that hope? that dream?

Pilgrimage – real pilgrimage – is surrender.  It is casting yourself upon the God of the whole earth.  It is the conscious decision to know a world that is bigger than your life, and a God Who deserves the prerogative of directing you in it wherever He would.

My pilgrimage did in fact alter everything.  I lost living near my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters, my family.  I lost getting to see my nephews and nieces grow up.  As I left - I knew it meant that over time most of my friendships would fade.  I realized I couldn’t transport my swank apartment, my carefully chosen antique furniture from the late 1800s, or most of my beloved books.  There could be none of that.  Everything that it wasn’t practical to keep in a small corner of my parent’s house had to be sold – or given away.

But – what stands out to me – exactly one year later – is that this death to the old life was incredibly worth it.  Jesus words ring truer to me now than ever before.  He said it so plainly.  “Whoever seeks to save his life, will lose it.  But whoever loses his life – for My sake - will find it.”

One year later, I have nine sons.  I have children knocking on my door who need food, and who want love and who are finding Jesus.  I have a new family, a new home, new furniture – and yes – even some new books.

One year later I feel as though I lost something very small in order to gain something immeasurably grand.  It is as though a kernel of grain fell into the ground, but only so it could spring up with far more.  It died, but only so that it would not remain alone.  Don’t get me wrong:  I love my parents and my family and my friends…and my books and my old apartment and my antique furniture…dearly.  But if I had held onto them, I would have lost my life.  In the very relinquishing of them – in the act of dying – I found my life 100 times over.  For, only when we let go of the ephemeral can we hold onto the eternal.  Only when we let go of the past can we face the future.  Only when we pack up the tents can we move into homes of stone.  Only when we die – can we really live.

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