Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 14: No Vacancy

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.-Luke 2:4-7

Have you ever listened or read to this piece of scripture and really thought about it?  There is a man and woman, the woman is either having contractions or just gave birth to a baby, and no one in Bethlehem was willing to take them in???  Imagine for a minute that a complete stranger and his wife showed up and she was having contractions, about to give birth, would you tell them, "Sorry, go away"?  I'm sure it wouldn't be natural to invite the person in, but what else would you do?  Back then, there were no ambulances to call, no hospitals to rush her off to.  The best anyone could do was a feed trough?  Really?  The more I think about it, the more I'm filled with indignation, not even because that is my King and Savior being born, but just because no one would show this young couple enough care and concern to take them in and for the few days they were in Bethlehem, let the woman and baby recover somewhere comfortable and relatively clean.  Even if it was on someone's floor in their house, that would have more dignity than shoving them in with animals, their smells and excrement and all.

As horrific a thought as that is, how many of us still do that with Jesus today?  When Jesus comes knocking, we flash Him a "no vacancy" sign because our life is full of so many other things, and instead of creating a space for Him, we just tell Him to go away?  How many of us let Him in, but then find the place of least honor to put Him?  How many of us, whether intentionally or not, put Him out in a barn with the smells and filth and bugs?

What do I mean by these things?  Let's take the first one, flashing Him a "no vacancy" sign.  For some, they may have been introduced to Jesus over and over again, but won't accept Him into their lives and hearts because something else is more important to them.  They know that accepting Jesus is going to make them face things in their life that will eventually need to change, but they would rather keep their heart full of those things, instead of taking the first step and simply telling Him He can come in and stay.

There are even Christians who flash Him a "no vacancy" sign.  We come to church every Sunday, we volunteer in whatever ministry, we put on a good show so that everyone at church thinks we are some kind of great Christian, but when Jesus comes knocking on our heart, wanting to change us and make us new, we tell Him "Sorry, no vacancy".  There is even a huge temptation for us as active Christians to say to Him, "I'm already a good Christian.  My life is too full with acting like a good Christian to let you into my heart.  I don't need you in there messing around with who I am.  I'm a good Christian on my own."  It sounds crass and almost everyone would balk at that and say, "There is no way that is me," but when was the last time you felt like you should sit down and read your Bible, but decided you didn't have the time?  When was the last time you were going through a major struggle and instead of sharing our struggles and asking for help like the Bible commands us, you keep it to yourself because, "No one needs to know our family's problems."  When was the last time you knew someone was hurting or lonely or just needed a friend, but you decided you were too busy to bother with them?  These are all ways that Jesus comes, looking for room to reside in our hearts, and we simply flash a No Vacancy sign at Him and tell Him to go away.

The second way we are like the people of Bethlehem is we may invite Christ into our lives, but don't put Him in a place of honor.  We make a commitment to follow Christ, but then we relegate Him to only being allowed in on Sunday mornings.  The rest of the week, He gets shoved aside and ignored.  Or, instead of tithing an amount that actually causes us to sacrifice and trust God, we throw whatever pocket change we happen to be carrying that day into the collection plate.  Tithing then becomes about giving the church money instead of what it was intended for, which is to make a more honored and special place in your heart for Christ.  We may treat those we like well and take care of them and love them, but as for the difficult people, we shut them out and treat them as less than human.  We may even teach about Jesus and obedience to Him,  or talk about how others would be better off if they followed Him, like we do, of course, but then not examine our own selves and apply His truth in our own lives.  All of these are examples of letting Him in, but making Him sleep in some out of the way corner, instead of giving Him the most comfortable bed in the house.

Lastly, there are those of us who, when Jesus comes knocking, send Him out to the barn to live in filth.  I believe this group is the worst.  These are the ones who make a commitment to Christ, but then put Him in the dirtiest part of their soul.  These are the people that use Jesus for hate.  They use it as an excuse to shout obscenities at someone walking into an abortion clinic.  They use it as an excuse to bully and harass homosexuals.  They use Christ as a fear mongering technique to terrorize and ostracize people into not drinking, smoking, watching R-rated movies or listening to secular music instead of letting the Holy Spirit convict those people personally.  They would rather call a prostitute a whore than tell her she's a beautiful daughter of the King.

I caution us, though, that before we say, "well, that certainly is not me.  I would never use Christ for an excuse to hate," have you ever used Christ or being a Christian to make yourself feel like you are better than others?  Have you ever said to yourself, "I'm glad I'm a Christian and don't squander my money on beer and cigarettes like all those heathens down at the bar?"  Or have you said, "I don't want my kids playing with those other kids because they aren't a Christian family?"  Or, perhaps one of the worst, "America is a Christian nation so that is why we are so much better than all those other countries"?  If we have any of those attitudes in our heart, then we are no better than the innkeepers who send a pregnant woman in labor out to a filthy barn to give birth while laying in excrement and being swarmed by bugs and force her to put her baby in nothing more than a feed trough.

This Christmas, search your heart and make sure you have a place of honor ready for the King to reside in.  Make it the most beautiful and luxurious place you can.  Pamper Him and love Him once He enters in and take care to keep Him there.  In the end, only one vacancy will matter, and it is the one you prepare in your heart for the King.

Activity:  Imagine your heart as a house.  What kind of house is it?  Is it clean and in good order or is it cluttered and messy?  Is there a special room set aside for the King, or do you have to shove Him in the corner or worse, send Him out to the barn.  It may even help, especially for people who are more visually oriented, to actually draw out the design of your "heart house", marking off rooms like your "work" room, your "family" room, your "private" room.  Then like furniture, start furnishing your house with the things that are in your room.  For example, who is in your family room?  Is there love in your family room?  Tension?  Anger?  Is there a giant elephant in your family room?  Is there a seat for Jesus in your family room?  Then look at your house and decide if there is any redecorating to be done.  Do you need to add on a room for Jesus, or just clear out a room that is taking up too much space?

Prayer:  Pray this scripture from Psalm 139:23-24, "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Then spend some time sitting and letting God search your heart and point things in your life out to you.  If you go into this open to whatever God may say, He will certainly point some things out.  Then pray for the strength to overcome them and remove these offensive ways from your life.

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