“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Growing up, I remember the family trips we would take in the family station wagon. Sometimes they were long pilgrimages between Washington DC and Alabama. My father loved to push the limits to see how far he could go before pulling into one of the small motels that dotted the rural landscapes of small highways in the 1950s. Of course there were no Google and no checking ahead for reservations. I doubt the Mountain Top Motor Lodge in Mount Airy, North Carolina, took reservations in 1959. And so my father pushed daylight hours to the maximum, and we seemed to always be looking for the motel to finally land for the night. Inevitably, we always ran into the times when the ”No Vacancy” sign seemed to be the norm. I remember all of us being tired and wanting to get to that motel that had the air conditioning and the swimming pool, and how we all looked with anticipation as we continued to drive and search for a place to stay. It was always a huge celebration when we finally came to a motel where the “Vacancy” sign seemed to smile and say, “Welcome Slaughter family. We have been waiting for you. Come in and rest.”
And so I think of Joseph and Mary, tired and anxious and worried. I think of Mary in pain and fear. And I see them looking for the inn with the vacancy light blinking and saying, “Welcome Joseph. Welcome Mary. We have been expecting you, and we know you hold inside of you the Son of Man. Give birth here in our home. Warm us with His presence.” I recently asked some children what the innkeepers would have done if they actually knew that Mary held Jesus within her and that she would bring forth into the world a Savior? One child said, “They would have kicked some other people out!”
More times than not, I am afraid I am like the Bethlehem innkeepers. Christ appears knocking on the door of my heart, and I don’t even recognize Him. He may appear in the form of a stranger, a loved one, a grocery clerk, a decision to be made, a joy, a challenge, but He knocks in the cold darkness of my heart, looking to come in and bring light and warmth. Alas, there is no room in the inn. My heart can get overcrowded at times. There are too many other guests taking up space. And so as an innocent child advised me, I look at the inhabitants that need to be booted out: my do lists, my busyness, my greed, my pride, my procrastination, my fear, my anxiety. There are more unwanted guests than I even imagined. And so I pray. Lord help me to make room for You, not just in this season of Advent, but in all seasons, all days. Help me to recognize You in all things. Help me to hear You knocking.
Help me remove the unwanted guests that make my sacred space cold and dark, and let me always welcome You in the space You want to call home, the place where You want to be born anew everyday and to grow and to come alive.
There are many rooms in this heart of mine. With Christ’s help, I am going to boot out some of the freeloading guests. I am going to put new light bulbs in the sign of my heart. I want the “Vacancy ” sign to be visible for miles. I don’t want Christ to miss it.