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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Living manger scene
Live nativity scene in Willow Street, PA with the innkeeper extending kindness to Mary.

"Is There Room In Your Heart?"

Message summary: Have you given Jesus room in your life and invited Him to live in your heart?

Listen to our message on your audio player.

"Because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).

On Christmas Eve we went to a living Nativity sponsored by a church in Willow Street, PA. The church is in a rural setting and the nativity setting took place in a barn where we sat on hay bales and witnessed the manger scene played out by live people surrounded by live animals.

As we listened to the dialogue from the innkeeper it brought about a different understanding than we have traditionally held about the Christmas story. We usually picture the innkeeper as a grumpy fellow and assumed that he must be that way because he didn't make room for the couple in the inn.

But the innkeeper was played by Joe Sherer, the pastor of the church, who has been a friend for many years. He brought out extra blankets and kindly expressed concern for the couple and their newborn baby. Now Joe is an authentically kind man in his real life person, so perhaps he has helped us to change our image of the grumpy, stingy innkeeper of the Christmas story! I believe we had a Christmas play in our church long ago that reinforced such an idea, so the innkeeper presented at this live nativity may permanently reshape our thinking about his role over 2000 years ago.

Hotel Bethlehem 12/25/18
Hotel Bethlehem, Bethlehem, PA

What might the inn itself have been like? It's easy to picture a modern inn and assume it was like a nice hotel. Last night we drove through Bethlehem, PA and and passed by the historic Bethlehem Hotel, a beautiful property that is very popular, especially during the Christmas season. It boasts a spectacular display of over 35,000 Christmas lights, a multitude of uniquely decorated Christmas trees, 36 wreaths, six 7 foot Toy Soldiers, two life size Nutcrackers and a gingerbread house modeled after the hotel.

While we may assume the ancient Bethlehem Inn was sort of a hotel, that probably was not the case. The Greek word translated "inn" could be translated "guest room". Some believe that Jesus may not have been born in a separate stable or barn as we traditionally picture it, but in a house with a lower floor serving as a nighttime shelter for the families’ animals. If this was true, it wouldn’t be surprising to find a manger located in that area of the house. When Luke states there was no room in the inn, he could have meant there was no room on the upper level, which would have been full of other people sleeping due to the same census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem.

Another question to ponder is why was Jesus born in these conditions? The gotquestions.org teaching site makes this point:

"So, why was the Savior and King born in a place where animals were kept? And why was He then laid in the animals’ food trough? Surely, God’s Son deserved a high-profile birth in the most elegant of surroundings. But, instead, God’s own Son made His appearance on earth in the lowliest of circumstances. This humble birth conveys an amazing message to creation: the transcendent God condescended to come to us. Instead of coming to earth as a pampered, privileged ruler, Jesus was born in meekness, as one of us. He is approachable, accessible, available—no palace gates bar the way to Him; no ring of guards prevents our approach. The King of kings came humbly, and His first bed was a manger."

We don't know what the Inn in ancient Bethlehem was like, a posh hotel or far more likely a simple guest house. We don't know whether the innkeeper was a grump or a kind man. But Luke explains to his readers why Mary laid the precious holy Child in a manger, "Because there was no room for them in the inn". As with most Scripture this leads us to an application challenge. Have you given Jesus room in your life and invited Him to live in your heart?

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, we thank You for Jesus who modelled the supreme example of humility, when He chose to be born of a simple virgin youth, to be fathered by a young Jewish carpenter, and to be delivered in a smelly setting among noisy, dirty and loud animals. You selected an angelic host to declare the good news of Christ's birth not to the town mayor or gate keeper but to the lowly shepherds, a despised people at that time. We want to humble ourselves in Your sight, O Lord, so that You might lift us up in due season to be blessed and sanctified by You, that is our prayer. Amen.

Randy Alcorn writes:  In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. During the time of the Patriarchs, shepherding was a noble occupation. When the twelve tribes of Israel migrated to Egypt, the encountered a lifestyle foreign to them. The Egyptians were agriculturalists. As farmers, they despised shepherding because sheep and goats meant death to crops. In the course of 400 years, the Egyptians prejudiced the Israelites’ attitude toward shepherding.

Some shepherds earned their poor reputations, but others became victims of a cruel stereotype. The religious leaders maligned the shepherd’s good name; rabbis banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel, except on desert plains. ‘To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property’ Shepherds were officially labeled ‘sinners’—a technical term for a class of despised people.

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Stephen & Brooksyne

Living nativity scene angels
The angels gave their announcement to the shepherds from a hay wagon next to a silo.

Living manger scene
The donkeys were unfazed by the remarkable presence of a newborn (though this baby was just a little hefty for a newborn). Instead the young donkeys were preoccupied with playing and seeking the characters in the play. The audience of young children in the front row entertained a miniature donkey by feeding him straw. It made for a real live situation where not all in attendance are having the same experience or are tuned in as much as others. The children we brought were spellbound by the characters and setting.

Living manger scene
The scene concluded with Pastor Joe, aka innkeeper, making an appeal to his audience to make room for Jesus before we all rode back to the church in a tractor-pulled hay wagon.

Red Caboose Motel 12/24/18
Heading back to Strasburg we saw The Red Caboose Motel lit up for Christmas.

Strasburg Railroad cars 12/24/18
The Strasburg Railroad on Christmas Eve.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Make Room"  Video  Casting Crowns

"Christmas in Heaven"  Video  On Christmas Eve, following our Christmas Eve service, we picked up the Lapps and attended the Live Nativity. Afterwards we visited in their home and had some enjoyable fellowship and fun into the late evening. I requested the family to sing "Christmas in Heaven" and recorded it as they did so. The children had learned this song and presented it for a Christmas program at their school to honor their uncle who had passed away after a battle with cancer. His three children also attend the school so it must have been very touching to sing this song while their mother was in attendance. We dedicate this song to our readers whose loved one may be celebrating Christmas in heaven.

Why was Jesus born in a manger? (from gotquestions.org)

Finally today:

Family Christmas photo 12/25/18
We visited Pat and Laverne, Stephen's brother and sister-in-law, in the Lehigh Valley (near Bethlehem) and enjoyed a delicious Christmas meal.

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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