"There was no room for Christ in the inn, when He was born; there was no room for Him in Nazareth when He began to preach. There was no room for Him in the temple when He declared Himself to be the Son of God. There was no room for Him in the empire when He declared Himself to be a king. At the last, there was no room for Him on earth, and they suspended Him above it on a cross" (Eldersveld).
The text is, of course, only a simple statement of fact, that the village inn was too small for those who thronged it that day. But the text suggests an idea that goes far beyond that. The religious institutions of Jesus' day had no room for Him because they were too narrow. They were concerned only with people of their own blood, with people who shared the same heritage. Is it possible that the religious institutions of our time likewise have no room for Him, because they have become too small, too narrow, too much concerned with self? Have we allowed them to shrink until there is no room in them for a universal Christ--for a Christ who loves all men, men who are not like us? Have we allowed the church to turn inward rather than outward? Is the church concerned only with the perpetration of its own life and machinery?
And what of our hearts? Have they become too small for Him? Is there room in our hearts for the kind of Christ the Bible talks about? Is there room in our hearts for the true spirit of Christmas?
Not far from a certain place of worship there was a rather expensive signboard declaring that the Spirit of Christmas is "Four Roses." Some of you will know that Four Roses doesn't come from a florist. It may come as some surprise to you to learn that the spirit of Christmas comes in a bottle! Ah, those bottles are destructive to everything Christmas is here to create. The spirit of Christmas is "peace on earth." In thousands of homes, the peace of the family will be destroyed this Christmas by alcohol. The peace of mind of thousands will be ruined by alcohol. The peace of the community will be disturbed because of alcohol. The spirit of Christmas is goodwill toward men. How many men of goodwill will be turned to men of ill will this Christmas because of alcohol? How many dollars that might have been usefully spent will be wasted! The spirit of Christmas? It is almost blasphemy to say that! The spirit of Christmas is love, joy, peace, giving, and forgiving. For these it takes a large heart indeed. If you have an enlarged heart physically, you may not regard it as any particular blessing; but spiritually, we all need to have enlargement of the heart.
We may well ask today, "What is it that shrinks the heart so that we forget the joy of giving and the greater joy of forgiving? What is it that shrinks the heart so that there is no longer any room for the peace that passes understanding? What is it that shrinks the heart so that no longer can we even know love or at the last even know joy?" Everyone of us can answer that question. We can answer the question in one word: "Sin." Sin shrinks the heart and shrivels the human soul so that there is no room for the Christ of Bethlehem, the Christ of the Bible!
Yes, there was no room in the inn, or in the temple, or in the empire, or in the heart. We would have been surprised if there had been. What kind of Christ would we have if He could have been confined in a little village inn? If He could have been contained within a little, narrow national religion? If He could have been controlled by some military empire? What kind of Christ would He be? We would be surprised if there had been room enough for Him anywhere, for the Christ we serve is too great ever to be confined! He is too great to be ignored, as He will be by so many. There is a text that I want to call to your attention. It is the words of the Wise-men who came to Jerusalem. They asked, "Where is He that is born King of the Jews?" Think about it. Where is He? Wise men still ask it. Lets ask it of our celebration of Christmas. "Where is He?"
Imagine being invited as a guest to a birthday party, and you ask, "Who is having the birthday?" Everyone says, "None of us." Why are you having a birthday party if the guest of honor is not present? Why does the world have birthday parties in celebration of the birth of Christ when He is not there? Indeed, everyone would be most embarrassed if He were there!
Where is He that is born when we are celebrating His birthday? Where is He in our nation? Is ours truly a Christian nation? Does our nation really care what Christ thinks about our national life? Does our nation really seek the wisdom of Christ in determining our national policy? You know and I know, beyond all question, we try to keep Him out of our national life. It would be embarrassing for Christ to know how we run this country.
Where is He in our homes? Santa Claus will be in nearly every home this Christmas. Christ will be invited into only a few. Everywhere they will sing "Jingle Bells" and read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, or Charles Dickens' ChristmasCarol. In how many homes will they read Luke chapter 2?
Where is He in our homes at Christmas? For that matter, where is He in our homes anytime? Where is He in our churches? You can worship in a different church next Sunday and not hear the name of Christ once. If you pick churches properly, you can go to a different church for fifty-two Sundays, and Christ will not be mentioned for a year. May God save us from seeing that ever happen in this place! May we be determined that Christ will always be in our church, preached from our pulpit, taught in the classes, revered in our hearts.
Yes, Christ is too great to be ignored; yet we live in a world that seems determined to ignore Him.
Those early Wise-men were astrologers; they studied the stars. The stars led them to Christ, but when they found Christ, they worshiped Him. Now humanity is walking that same road, backward. Now humanity forsakes Christ and seeks again to find in the stars their guidance for life. There are far too many who take the stars seriously, but who do not take the Savior seriously. The Wise-men forsook the wisdom of the star in favor of worshiping Christ. Not only is He too great to be ignored, He's too great to be dismissed with a gesture, with a polite little nod, with a mere tip of the hat.
Its our custom in many cities to have a Santa Claus parade. There isn't anything wrong with that. I'm in favor of that, but there's one part about it we ought to change. Often, a representative of the local ministerial association is asked to have an invocation. Now you imagine about four or five hundred children, yelling and screaming, gathered around Santa Claus, and then we say, "Were going to have an invocation"! It is a travesty, and ought to be left out, because Christ is not to be dismissed with a gesture. It is my judgment that it is better to have no prayer at all than to have a prayer like that.
Every once in a while, I go to some function, and they call on me to have a little prayer. That's one thing you can't have. There is no such thing as a little prayer. There is such a thing as a brief prayer. Some of them in the Bible had only two or three words, and it's perfectly all right to have a brief prayer. There are times when a brief prayer is a whole lot more religious than a long prayer. You can have a brief prayer, but the one thing you can never have is a little prayer. If it reaches God, it has a magnitude beyond description; and if it doesn't reach God, then it isn't a prayer at all.
Oh, let's not dismiss Christ with a nod or with a polite gesture, and nothing more. He's too great for that! Christ is also too great to be expected to compete. He must compete at Thanksgiving with a turkey and at Christmas with Kris Kringle and on Easter with new hats and bunny rabbits. Isn't it strange that we take all of the holy days, rob them of all of their meaning, and then hang our tinsel and our trinkets on a hollow shell.
So great is our Lord that Solomon said of Him, "The heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee" (1 Kings 8:27). We need that kind of view of our Lord and of His Christ. There could never be room for Christ on earth. He's too great for our little world. He's too much for our little planet. There will never be room for Him, not the Christ of the New Testament.
The Bible speaks of us as those "upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). Oh, don't you see the greatness of that? John, who began his Gospel with those stirring words from our Scripture lesson this morning, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," ends his Gospel with this: "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." That sounds like a great exaggeration, doesn't it? But think about it. All we know about Christ happened before He was twelve and after He was thirty. So there are eighteen years about which we know nothing. Write everything Jesus said and did through thirty-four years. Then show how everything Jesus did related to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Then show how Jesus words and deeds affected the life of His own time. Then discuss how Jesus life has affected all subsequent history, how men's minds have been changed by the gospel of Christ. Put all that down and you've got a lot of books. Then start writing about the meaning of Christ, the nature of Christ, what it means for Him to be the Son of God and Son of man, what it means for Him to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and what it means for Him to be the Lamb of God. John is not exaggerating when he says that the world could not contain the books if you wrote down everything that concerned Jesus of Nazareth. If the world could not contain the chronicle of the Christ, then the world could not contain Christ, either.
There is another side to this truth. As a coin has two faces, there are two sides to this truth. This Christ who is so great that He cannot be contained in our world is also so great that He can never be kept out of our world. People have been trying that since He entered our world. Herod tried to keep Christ out. Where's Herod? He's dead. Indeed, before Jesus had ever grown up to young manhood, the message came: "They are dead which sought the young child's life." When at last He had grown to manhood, Pilate tried to get Him out of our world.
There is an interesting story that concerns Pilate's wife, who, you will remember, warned her husband to have nothing to do with this just man. After the awful events of that night, it is said that she sent for a servant to find out what had become of Christ. The servant said, "He has been let loose in the world."
That's what happened at Bethlehem and at Calvary in the resurrection. Christ was turned loose in the world. The Herods and the Pilates keep on in their futile efforts to get Him out of our world. Communism tries to shut Christ out of the world. Though they hold half the world's people in their thrall, in little groups beneath the hammer and the sickle and in little groups beneath the red star, still the disciples of Jesus are faithful to Him. The soil of Russia and China has already been stained by the blood of martyrs. Communism continues its effort, but it is a futile effort; they cannot keep Him out of our world.
Over here in the free world, we try to keep Him out by means of what is called secularism, by trying to build a non-religious world. It is not necessarily anti-religious at the first, although it may turn out to be at the last. Our world tries to build a society that's neutral concerning Christ. That is the one thing you can never be. Although the world tries desperately to keep Him out, the fact is that the world is full of Him. Read history. Study art. Look at literature. Consider drama or poetry. Even the modern writers, who imagine themselves to be completely divorced from religion, keep coming back to write about the old moral issues that Jesus spotlighted centuries ago.
If it is a fact that we cannot keep Him out of our world, it is also a fact that we cannot escape Him. He keeps confronting us on the busy street corners of life and at the lonely crossroads of life. In the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times, we suddenly find ourselves gazing into the piercing eyes of the Son of God. He keeps poking into all the dark, musty corners of life, into the closets where the skeletons are. He goes over our books and our bank accounts. He reads our correspondence; He reads our hearts.
This is the Christ I want you to see today--the Christ who could never be kept out and from whom you cannot keep away.
Dr. John Rosen is a very famous psychiatrist who has had remarkable success with people who would not respond to the normal methods of psychiatry. These are the people called catatonics. They refuse to talk to anybody. Many of them go to bed, and they bend their body in the shape that the baby was in the womb.
They refuse to move from that position, and they refuse to speak a single word. Dr. John Rosen tried a new method. He moved in on the ward and put up a cot there. Every day he would go by and see these patients. Then every once in a while, he would stop at a patients bed, take off his coat and tie, and climb into bed with them! Hed put his arms around them, and gently embrace them. And some of them returned to the world of the living because of that wordless expression of love.
Christmas means that God
moved in on the ward. He came into the sickroom of sin in order that
He might restore us to spiritual health.