I think it's easier than ever to find ourselves waking up suddenly on Christmas morning and thinking, "Is it Christmas ALREADY?!" We seem to miss so many of the blessings of this Advent and Christmas season in our quest to meet demands and do the "right" thing. Of course, ministers and teachers in our churches will be extolling the primary characters of the Christmas story. There ARE great lessons to be learned from them, even today. However, some of the "minor" characters also teach great lessons, too --- lessons we ALL need to learn and relearn.
1. THE INNKEEPER
"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 room for them in the inn." ---- Luke 2:4-7
Perhaps this unnamed innkeeper should best be remembered as the Patron Saint of Tyranny of the Urgent --- those who become so busy that they're blind to reality. Of course, on the outside, nothing physical or obvious indicated to the innkeeper that the poor family standing at his door was a royal family. No holy aura surrounded them --- they were just an exhausted traveling family like so many others foisted on tiny Bethlehem by a Roman Emperor's need for a census and, of course, new taxes. Every available living space was already taken, and STILL the families came!
How many times we have vilified this poor businessman! Was he really hard-hearted, or was he simply tapped out for space? Was he really some sort of enemy of the Christ-child, or was he merely overwhelmed by the demands of the day? Most likely, he was exactly like us --- seized by the urgency of the moment and the demands of the obvious. How many of us lose our spiritual bearings each day in the workaday world JUST LIKE THAT? Pray this week that God will give you and me a heightened spiritual sensitivity to what's REALLY important. Don't fall for the error of the innkeeper --- by satisfying the innocent request for space with what he had left, he permanently lost the opportunity to create a more honorable space for the holy family. His busyness blinded him to God's great gift right in front of him!
2. THE SHEPHERDS
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord'.........When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off...."
Of all the characters who might be good examples for us, fewer are more unlikely than shepherds. These were NOT Ph.D. candidates! Shepherds were unkempt and unseemly characters whose manners were rough at best and whose reputations were uniformly bad. In fact, Jewish practice was that shepherds' testimony was not to be trusted in court proceedings unless corroborated by other, non-shepherd, testimony! Yet, there it is in Scripture that of all the groups who could have heard the Heavenly Host announcing the birth of the Messiah, God sovereignly chose the shepherds!
I don't know if this partly indicates that God has a different sense of humor, but I think it DOES show that God's love and grace encompasses ALL types of folks! The shepherds are examples that we're never so far away from God that His message cannot come through to us. Also, though the shepherds were aware of their low social status and esteem, they did receive the word from God's messengers and took it seriously. When told the good news and that "you will find..," they "hurried off" to find Mary and Joseph and the Baby. Their hurrying, unlike the innkeeper, was to see what was true and eternal. Our hurrying should be the same!
Oh, and I do notice that verse 17 tells us that "When they had seen him, they spread the word..." Not a bad result of Christmas! Wonder how well we "spread the word" the rest of the year?!
This week, we'll come much closer to that blessed night in Bethlehem once again. In all the hurrying, in all the preparations for friends and family, in all the demands on our attention and time, make sure that we learn from the shepherds rather than the innkeeper! Don't miss what is eternal for what is expedient!