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Bible Search
The God of Every Circumstance
In Defense of Christ
No Crib for a Bed:
The God of Every Circumstance
Luke 2:7
 
It happened again this week.  This morning’s paper reported another incident of someone being offended over the use of the word “Christmas” in a public setting. 
 
This time it was in Roselle Park, New Jersey where city council member Charlene Storey resigned after her colleagues voted to add the word “Christmas” to the name of the town’s tree lighting ceremony saying changing the name “cuts non-Christians out of the loop”. 
 
Hey!  It’s our holiday!  If you don’t like the title, quit participating!  Go start your own and call it whatever you like! 
 
One of the reasons I feel so strongly we must defend Christ is what His inclusion means.  Without Christ, there is not only no Christmas, there is no hope.  And the one thing all of us need is hope.  It is that theme of hope that Edmund Sears had in mind when he wrote,
 
“It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heavens all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
 
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long,
Beneath the angel strains have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong.
And man, at war with man, hears not
The loce song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing!
 
All ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
 
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing. 
 
Everybody needs some hope!  Chances are some us will spend Christmas in the hospital or at the bedside of someone we love.  Some of us may have to gather at the cemetery.  Or it may be a financial strain or some other circumstance that reminds us of our need for Christ.  As the song says and as your own life and mine testify, there will come some times when we need to know God is in control. 
 
And there is a subtle reminder that life is not always pleasant and easy tucked away in the Christmas story in Luke 2:7.   
 
I’m afraid the traditional nativity scene has become far too familiar to us.  Usually the setting has Mary and Joseph watching as Jesus sleeps in the clean wooden feeding-trough. Sometimes there is a glowing light glowing from baby Jesus or He has a halo around His head.
 
The straw is fresh, overhead the stars twinkle in the sky, nearby the cattle and the sheep are looking intently at the baby sleeping in the manger.  There’s almost always a donkey and a camel nearby. 
 
And very often the shepherds and the Wise Men bow before the Babe in the manger. As I said, it is a sweet and beautiful scene.
 
But that is a very dangerous representation of what happened the night Christ was born.  It must be because you can’t put one on government property or in almost any public place these days. You sure can’t display one in a public school where kids might be exposed to it.  And if you do, you are very likely to get sued. Someone is almost certain to be offended.
 
But the real danger with the nativity is not because of those things.  I think what makes that portrayal so dangerous is that it has very little to do with what really happened that night in Bethlehem.
 
I don’t think it was nearly that peaceful.  I’m sure it wasn’t that clean.  Nor was it as beautiful as we like to imagine. 
And there’s no scriptural reason I can find to believe the shepherds and the Wise Men ever saw Jesus at the same time.
 
But whatever the conditions that really existed that night, there is one fact, found in Scripture, that substantiates His birth really did occur in the worst of conditions and that is the Son of God from heaven comes to earth as a newborn baby and was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn.
 
We hear that so often that we take it for granted, but it doesn’t seem right. From our point of view, Jesus should not have been born in a stable—but he was.
 
Jesus doesn’t belong here. He’s the Son of God from heaven. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like a vagrant or a criminal. He deserves the best the world has to offer. He comes from heaven to earth and yet He ends up in a manger.  How can that be? So
 
  1.  Why Did It Have to Happen Like This?
 
I mean you would think God could have done better. Think about it for a moment. Suppose you had all power and could choose the time and place and manner of your Son’s birth. Would you choose to have him born outside around farm animals? That doesn’t make any sense. What’s going on here? Why is this happening? Why is there no room in the inn?
 
Perhaps the place to begin is with some information about Bethlehem itself. At the time of the birth of Jesus, it was a small village about seven or eight miles south of Jerusalem, no more than an hour or two walk.
In Jesus’ day, it was one of the least important towns in all of Judah. One writer called it a “hamlet,” meaning a quaint little village. A few shepherds lived there, some farmers, maybe a few merchants, and that was about it. It was a small Jewish village made famous only because it was King David’s hometown.
 
One part of the story involved a man named Caesar Augustus in faraway Rome who, prompted by God, decreed that a census be taken so that taxes could be collected throughout the Empire. The census required that all Jewish males go back to their ancestral hometowns to register. Since Joseph was descended from David, he had to return to Bethlehem.
 
It “happened” that Mary was in her final stages of pregnancy when they arrived in Bethlehem. I emphasize the word “happened” because God arranged everything so that the emperor issued the decree at just the right moment and in just the right way so that at just the right time Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem so that they were exactly where the prophet Micah said they would be when Jesus was born (Micah 5:2).
 
It all seemed to just “happen,” but what seemed to be by chance was actually the hand of God moving through history to accomplish his purposes.
 
Another part of our problem in understanding this story revolves around the word “inn.” We are so immersed in American culture that we read the text this way: “There was no room for them at the Bethlehem Holiday Inn.” Or “They couldn’t find a room at the Greater Jerusalem Hampton Inn.” Or the Ramada Inn. Or the Sheraton. Or the Hilton.
We tend to think of a nice building near a freeway exit, three or four stories tall, with a nice parking lot, a large lobby, a pool and a hot tub, a Coke machine on every floor, with hot showers, cable TV, and data ports on the phones so we can surf the Internet. To us, roughing it is what happens when the ice machine is broken.
 
In all the Roman Empire, there was not a single inn as nice as the average motel we have today.  In those days travel was dirty, difficult and dangerous. Creature comforts were hard to come by. Travelers needed safety and security from the robbers that could be found on every highway. An “inn” was simply a building where you could rest safely during the night. Indoor plumbing was not an option—and cable TV was 20 centuries in the future.
 
In order to properly understand what happened, it helps to know that Luke used two different words for “inn” when he wrote his gospel. One word refers to a small building dedicated to serving travelers. At one end of the building, you tied up your horses and donkeys. For a fee, the innkeeper allowed you to sleep on a rough mattress on the floor. He also kept the fire going and provided fodder for the animals.
This was the type of “inn” Jesus mentioned in the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10: 34.
 
But when Luke told the story of Jesus’ birth, he used a different word for “inn” in verse 7 that basically means a guest room. This “inn” would be even smaller and simpler than the one in Luke 10. The animals would be kept in a stable that was often nothing more than a cave in a hillside with low rock walls to keep the animals from wandering away during the night.
It was an “inn” such as this that had no room for Mary and Joseph and Jesus on that holy night in Bethlehem.
 
Why were they turned away? No doubt they were full that night. Perhaps other descendants of David had come to Bethlehem to enroll for the census. And the innkeeper would not have known Joseph because he was from Nazareth. Perhaps because they were poor, they could not pay.
 
And perhaps the innkeeper, seeing that Mary was very pregnant, did not want to drive off the other customers. The only thing we know for certain is that there was no room for them. Everything else is just conjecture.
 
And that brings me back to the major point. From a human point of view, nothing in this picture looks right. Jesus deserved better; God could have done better. So why did it happen like this? That leads us to the second question.
 
2) Why Does God Allow It?
 
Even though I pose that question myself, I’m not sure it’s the best way to phrase it.  If we believe that God is in control of every detail in the universe, then I think it wrong to ask, “Why did God allow it” as if God just has to take what comes His way and has no control over it.  I don’t it proper to believe that God simply “allowed” his Son to be born in a stable.  God ordained that His Son be born in a stable.  God made sure it happened this way.
 
 
Listen:  there was no room in the inn because God wanted it that way. If God had wanted it some other way, then it would have happened that “other way.”
 
Think about how it all came together.  Joseph and Mary were compelled by this census to return to Bethlehem in the latter stages of Mary’s pregnancy. They arrived in Bethlehem right at the time Mary is going to give birth to Jesus.
 
By the way, that would have been a very difficult and dangerous journey.  To get from Nazareth to Bethlehem, they would have gone east across the Jordan River, then south through Perea, crossing into Judea at Jericho. They would have ascended through the mountains to Jerusalem, and then made the seven- or eight-mile journey south to Bethlehem.  You had to go that way to avoid Samaria meaning it was a 90 mile trip taking several days and that’s without a pregnant wife!
 
By the way, things wouldn’t be to different today.  You say, “Well she could just jump on a plane and go.”  No without a letter from a doctor written within 72 hours of the trip saying they are in good enough health to make the flight!  Airline policies prohibit a woman past the 35th week of her pregnancy from flying without one. 
 
A woman in the last stages of pregnancy would very likely be turned away at the gate. The bottom line is that nothing has really changed in 2,000 years. Mary would still be walking today.
 
 
 
So they arrived in Bethlehem, were turned away at the inn, and the baby was born in a stable—outdoors, in the cold, with the animals no doubt nearby. They had no privacy, no sanitation, and very little protection from the elements.
 
Why would God send his Son into the world like this? In his sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon (“No Room for Christ in the Inn”) offers a number of answers to this question.
 
First of all, Christ was born like this to show his humiliation.
 
 “Would it have been fitting that the man who was to die naked on the cross should be robed in purple at his birth?” he asks. The answer is no, it would not have been fitting for Jesus to be robed in purple at his birth. All his life he would be not much more than a peasant. Nothing is more fitting for Christ than to be born in a manger since he had laid aside his glory to take the form of a servant.
Jesus, King of the Poor
 
Second, he was born like this to identify with the poor.
 
The poor and the outcasts knew Jesus was one of them because of the way he came into the world. “In the eyes of the poor, imperial robes excite no affection, a man in their own garb attracts their confidence.”
 
 
 
 
Spurgeon notes that the best commanders are those who have the common touch, who are not afraid to mingle with the soldiers on the front lines, who aren’t ashamed to get their hands dirty in the trenches of warfare. When soldiers know that their commander has walked where they walk, they will follow him to the ends of the earth. The poor of the earth know that in Jesus they have a friend who cares about them.
 
Third, he was born like this in order that the humble might feel invited to come to him.
 
The very manner of his birth—turned away from the inn, born in a stable—was an invitation to the rejected, the abused, the mistreated, the forgotten, the overlooked, to come to him for salvation. “We might tremble to approach a throne, but we cannot fear to approach a manger.”
 
If Jesus had been born in Paris or in Beverly Hills, only the rich and famous would feel at home with him. But since he was born in a stable, all the outsiders of the world (and there are far more outsiders than insiders) would instinctively feel a kinship with Jesus.
 
By being laid in a manger he proved himself a priest taken from among men, one who has suffered like his brethren, and therefore can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities. Of him it was said “He doth eat and drink with publicans and sinners;” “this man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.” Even as an infant, by being laid in a manger, he was set forth as the sinner’s friend.
 
I find this an inspiring thought. The fact that there was no room in the inn turns out to be much more than an incidental detail. Indeed, it is central to who Jesus is. Now that we know why he came, surely we will say, “He had to be born like this. It couldn’t have happened any other way.”
 
We also find in the manger scene a hint of his coming death.  Turned away from the inn and resting in a feeding-trough, he was already bearing the only cross a baby can bear—extreme poverty and the contempt and indifference of mankind.
 
In the words of Francis of Assisi, “For our sakes he was born a stranger in an open stable; he lived without a place of his own wherein to lay his head, subsisting by the charity of good people; and he died naked on a cross in the close embrace of holy poverty.”
 
This baby lying forgotten in an exposed stable, resting in a feeding-trough, is God’s appointed “sign” to us all. This is a true Incarnation. God has come to the world in a most unlikely way. This is what Philippians 2:7 means when it says that he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
 
Nothing about the baby Jesus appeared supernatural. There were no halos, no angels visible, and no choirs singing. If you had been there, and if you had no other information, you would have concluded that this was just a baby born to a poor young couple down on their luck. Nothing about the outward circumstances pointed to God.
 
Yet all of it—every part of it, every single, solitary, seemingly random detail—was planned by the Father before the foundation of the world. To the unseeing eye, nothing looks less like God; to those who understand, God’s fingerprints are everywhere.
3) What do we learn from this?
 
If we stand back and consider this one aspect of the Christmas story, some amazing truths emerge. We learn something about God, something about the world, something about Jesus, and something about his followers.
 
First, we learn that God uses adverse circumstances that make no sense at the time in order to accomplish his purposes in the future.
 
At first glance the fact that there was no room at the inn seems like an insignificant detail in the larger picture. But I assure you that it was no small detail to Mary and Joseph. Being turned away at the very moment when the baby was coming must have been devastating. Giving birth in a stable no doubt tested their faith to the limit.
 
Certainly it would not have made sense at the time. Mary and Joseph—no matter how devout they were—simply could not have foreseen how this “negative” turn of events would turn about to be part of God’s plan to bring his Son to the world. They might have believed it, but they would not have seen it in advance.
 
Life is like that—we don’t know what is coming around the corner, and many things we endure make no sense at all.
Sometimes they don’t make sense for years to come. And sometimes they never make sense to us. All of us have had those experiences with friends and loved ones that make no sense. 
 
But it is in those times, rather than trying to explain the mysterious ways of God, or trying to answer unanswerable questions, we do better to rest on what we know about God—that he is good and just and merciful, that his ways are not our ways, that he makes no mistakes, and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3).
 
 I take great comfort in the fact that our God knows what he is doing, and he uses everything that happens to us to accomplish his purposes in us and through us and for us. Nothing is wasted. That was true for Mary and Joseph. Nothing is wasted—not even being turned away because there was no room in the inn.
 
Second, we learn also that the world had no room for Christ, and it has no room for Christ now.
 
John 1:11 puts it very plainly: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Jesus came “home” to his own people—and they wouldn’t take him in. He came to the people who should have known him best—and they wanted nothing to do with him. They should have known better. They knew he was coming—God had told them over and over again many times in many ways. They had ample warning.
 
 
Even some pagan astrologers in Persia figured it out when they saw his star in the east (Matthew 2:1-5). But the rejection of Christ by his own people was a portent of things to come. If Mary and Joseph came to Ardmore, they would be turned away from the Springhill Suites or the Holiday Inn.  I’m not sure the Catholic Hospital would have taken her! 
 
If Jesus were born today, it would more than likely have happened in the apartments down the block or perhaps over at the Hardy Murphy Coliseum or in a field out in the country.  The world that had no room for him has no room for him now.
 
Third, we learn that his humiliation started early and continued to the very end.
 
He was born outside because they wouldn’t let Mary and Joseph come inside. During his ministry he told his disciples that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). He owned nothing but the clothes on his back, and when he was crucified, the soldiers gambled for his robe.
 
When he died, they buried him in a borrowed tomb. The whole story is quite remarkable if you think about it.
 
Did you ever wonder what that stable smelled like? I would imagine it smelled like a stable.  It wasn’t a nice place to be born. It’s closer to the truth to say that we worship a man born in a dumpster than to say we worship a man born in a palace. Jesus is more than a man—he’s the Son of God—but he’s not less than fully human either.
Our Savior’s birth pictured the whole course of his life. He was born outside the inn and he died outside the walls of Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:11-13). He was an “outsider” in every sense—he came from “outside” this earth, he was born “outside” the inn, and he died “outside” the city walls.
 
Fourth, we learn that his followers share in his fate.
 
We live with him, we suffer with him, we die with him, and we reign with him. What happens to Jesus happens to his followers sooner or later. Just as there was no room for Jesus, there is “no room” for his followers either.
 
This week I noticed a detail in the Christmas story that I had never seen before. Whenever I had read or heard Luke 2:7, I always read and heard the last phrase this way, “because there was no room for him in the inn.” But that’s not what Luke said. He actually wrote, “because there was no room for them in the inn.”
 
Remember, the innkeeper had no idea that the Messiah was about to be born. I had always read it as if there was no room for Jesus. True enough, but there was no room for Mary or Joseph either.
 
Even that detail tells a story. They are also “outside the inn” when Jesus is born. What happened to him happened also to them. That too is a pattern for the future. Many years later Jesus challenged his disciples this way: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). When Christ calls us, he bids us come and die with him.
And so we come to the very end of the story. What great truth lies behind the simple words of Luke 2:7. Even the tiniest details turn out to have enormous significance in the Christmas story.
 
Let me say one final time so we will be sure to catch it. The “No Vacancy” signs were there for our benefit. God could have made a room available. He could have created a hospital or a palace in Bethlehem if he had so desired.
 
The sequence of events that unfolded—the census, the long journey, no room at the inn, “no crib for a bed,” the feeding trough, the “swaddling clothes"—all of it was planned by God even though it all appeared to happen by chance. God willed there would be no room in the inn not for the sake of Jesus, but for our sakes, that we might learn who Jesus is and why he came.
 
Because there was no room in the inn, the final call is always individual. The world has no room for Jesus. Will you make room for him in your heart?
 
The story first appeared in Guidepost magazine back in 1966 and even though I encountered it many years later, it’s still one of my all-time favorites.  I’ll read it just as it first appeared: 
 
“For years now, whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain little town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of Wallace Purling.
 
Wally's performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend. But the old-timers who were in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
 
Wally was nine that year and in the second grade, though he should have been in the fourth. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty keeping up. He was big and awkward, slow in movement and mind.
 
Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he, though the boys had trouble hiding their irritation when Wally would ask to play ball with them or any game, for that matter, in which winning was important.
 
They'd find a way to keep him out, but Wally would hang around anyway—not sulking, just hoping. He was a helpful boy, always willing and smiling, and the protector, paradoxically, of the underdog. If the older boys chased the younger ones away, it would be Wally who'd say, "Can't they stay? They're no bother."
 
Wally fancied the idea of being a shepherd in the Christmas pageant, but the play's director, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a more important role. After all, she reasoned, the innkeeper did not have too many lines, and Wally's size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
 
And so it happened that the usual large, partisan audience gathered for the town's yearly extravaganza of crooks and creches, of beards, crowns, halos and a whole stageful of squeaky voices.
 
No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wallace Purling. They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
 
Then the time came when Joseph appeared, slowly, tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. Wally the innkeeper was there, waiting.
 
"What do you want?" Wally said, swinging the door open with a brusque gesture.
 
"We seek lodging."
 
"Seek it elsewhere." Wally spoke vigorously. "The inn is filled."
 
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
 
"There is no room in this inn for you." Wally looked properly stern.
 
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired."
 
Now, for the first time, the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. With that, there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with embarrassment.
 
"No! Begone!" the prompter whispered.
 
"No!" Wally repeated automatically. "Begone!"
 
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband's shoulder and the two of them started to move away. The innkeeper did not return inside his inn, however. Wally stood there in the doorway, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open, his brow creased with concern, his eyes filling unmistakably with tears.
 
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
 
"Don't go, Joseph," Wally called out. "Bring Mary back." And Wallace Purling's face grew into a bright smile. "You can have my room."
 
Some people in town thought that the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others—many, many others—who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
 
Unfortunately, there really was no room for Jesus that night in Bethlehem. But here’s the good news for the worst of sinners. There is hope!  Though the whole world may turn away, you can open your heart and let him in. And if he comes in, he will never leave you. May God grant to each of us faith to believe and an open heart to say, “Yes, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you.”
 
Let’s pray. 
 
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