I Am the Innkeeper

I was walking around the mall near the theater I used to run the projection booth for a few years back, and I happened to pass by a display of “musician” snowmen outside of a Walmart store. They were all gaily dressed, of course, and holding various instruments. As I walked by, they struck up what sounded like a dixieland version of “Away in a Manger.” Couldn’t believe it for a minute.

Snowmen.

And not even singing snowmen—God forbid you should hear the name of Jesus spoken in a shopping mall. I mean, even greetings and thanks usually have the non-offensive and politically correct “Happy Holidays”
added as a tag-line.

Happy Holidays.

What are people celebrating? Three cheers for capitalism? How Much Can You Buy day?

I found a picture not long ago on Google images of a 1st century manger, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. It was made of roughly hewn stone that looked like it would have been really cold. There was no straw sticking up, but there was a little dirty water in the bottom. Usually, you’ll see a smartly built wooden cradle in most nativities. You’ll see some clean straw poking out the ends, or maybe a roughly sewn blanket or piece of cloth. There will be a few animals standing idly by, and several people gazing raptly down at the manger (and I won’t even mention the fact that the “wise men” did not come along while Jesus was actually in the manger–oh, wait. I guess I just mentioned it).

Anyway, it kind of bothers me that Christmas to many has become little more than a series of stock images and a few pretty songs that only get the dust blown off them once a year, for a few weeks at most. Or maybe it’s little more than a time to eat too much and exchange brightly colored packages, sit in a church, and feel a little better about yourself for a few days (we just watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the other day, and if you haven’t seen it, or seen it in a while, Linus really nails what Christmas is all about”. But as usual, I digress…

I imagine Joseph was probably thinking it wouldn’t be a problem to find some place for them to stay—just for the night—in a one donkey town like Bethlehem. Somewhere for his young wife to give birth in. And it has always seemed to me the Innkeeper could have at least made some small accommodation for them, even if it was just clearing out a corner in a storeroom.

It could be that he was running around the Bethlehem Inn like a lunatic, trying to keep everyone’s cup full, and couldn’t be bothered to help out what probably looked like a poor couple on a donkey (I imagine him like Thenardier is Les Miserables). But the Bible tells us nothing about him, not even his name. And it occurred to me that his name doesn’t matter. He’s the just like a great many people this time of year—certainly me at times—In that I sometimes struggle to make room for Christ.

Anyway, when I hear that song, I always get stuck on the first line.

“away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”

The Light of the World in a cold stone feed trough. Lying under the stars He created. Sometimes I wonder if even then he was aware of what lie ahead. He was an infant

“Holy infant so tender and mild…”

but he was also Lord. Was he thinking of Calvary, and a Roman Cross? No way to know, and when you think about it, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is that He was born.

To understand why, I think you have to consider the difference between Grace and Mercy. As most believers know, the wages of sin is death. No way around that. As payment for our sins, God demands a death sentence.

His mercy could have pardoned us, our sins still evident and the payment still demanded, but unfulfilled because of His forgiving nature. And we would still have death hanging over us like a sword. But because of Grace, we do not.

Because of Grace, He was born in Bethlehem on that day, and 33 years later walked the Via Dolorosa. Because of that walk, because of His sacrifice in place of our own deaths, because of His assumption of our sin, the debt to God is paid in full, by Jesus, and that sword is gone, our sins forgiven rather than just pardoned.

They no longer exist.

And consider the fifth verse:

“Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray…”

Not really a need to explain that further, other than to say this is what we strive for, hope for, and pray for. To be near Him, and for Him to be near us.

Anyway, I’m just going to go ahead and out myself as a geek and say that’s one of my favorite Christmas songs, all complaining aside—especially now that I’m able to sing them, and realize them for what they really are—the ultimate praise songs.

And now, time to go. I’m going to go help my son get his night vision goggles going, and then we’re going to get ready for church. I love Christmas.

I hope yours is shaping up to be as good as mine…

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Blessed Assurance

I got knocked out once when I was in junior high school.

It was in the locker room during the four or five minutes they gave us to shower and dress again after gym class. I would have preferred not to take a shower in front of a bunch of other kids, of course, but this was back when “they” were actually allowed to compel students to do things that were…potentially embarrassing.

I remember undressing, and wrapping a towel around my midsection. I remember walking into the shower area and laying my towel over a wall within easy reach.

Then I remember waking up on my back, with a circle of kids around me like spectators at a car crash–except for the people at car wrecks aren’t usually laughing at the person laying on the ground.

All of these boys were just standing there, watching me lay naked on the wet tile floor.

And laughing.

I was never popular when I was a kid, and certainly was not considered “cool,” by probably anyone except the few other misfits I spent most of my time with. But it was not until that day I realized how little I was thought of by kids who rated even a little higher on the cool scale than me.

I don’t remember seeing any of my few friends in the circle that morning, but none of the kids that were there reached out to help me, or to even ask if I was OK. They literally just pointed and laughed.

I was horrified, and for a few seconds just lay there, trying to disappear into the grout.

The teacher came in shortly after that and shooed everyone away, and helped me get up. I didn’t tell him about my couple seconds of blackout, and insisted emphatically that I was OK and just wanted to go about my business and return to class, which is what I eventually ended up doing.

What I took away from that incident stayed with me for most of my life, and it’s only in thinking and writing about it now that I can see how much it affected me.

It taught me not only that I wasn’t cool, but that I probably never would be. I was also left with the feeling that I didn’t belong at my school, and maybe not anywhere. I certainly didn’t want to be there after the “shower” incident. And if it weren’t for the few people I knew there who didn’t see through me, I don’t think I would have made it.

That feeling, though…feeling like I didn’t belong there. That was a feeling I had a really difficult time shaking.

And it eventually got to the point that I felt maybe the people laughing at me were right, and I was worthy of ridicule. I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t fit in anywhere, or matter anywhere.

I was…a mistake.

I was not worthy of…anything.

I was little more than someone for people to point and laugh at.

Maybe that’s how you feel.

Probably you didn’t fall and hit your head on the floor of a junior high shower, but maybe something happened where it felt like you were the butt of a joke.

Like everyone was laughing at you.

Like you were some offal scraped from the bottom of a shoe.

Like you didn’t belong.

Like you didn’t matter.

I went the better part of my life feeling that way.

But then Jesus came along and whispered truth into my heart. It was as if I could hear Him telling me

You belong here.

You are not a joke.

You are of greatest value to me—a price above rubies.

You matter so much to me, I died for you.

I wish I could tell you that knowing Jesus makes you immune to pain, and suffering, and that only good things will happen to you for the rest of your life.

But that isn’t the truth.

The truth is that bad, crappy, and sometimes tragic things will happen, and in some cases happen often.

What Jesus offers is not always deliverance from these things.

He offers love, and friendship, and the hand of a healer where before all that existed was a feeling of aloneness so profound it hung around you like the dark blanket it actually was.

Jesus offers deliverance through pain, not from it. He offers hope when we are scorned, and mocked, and laughed at. He went through it, too. Just look at these words from Isaiah 53:

2 My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Jesus offers somewhere to belong, and someone to belong to. And no matter how hated, how inconsequential, how alone we feel, he was all of those things, too.

We are not alone in our suffering.

We are not alone.

We have the assurance of a comforting hand reaching out to us across the darkness, and if we take it, we can get through anything.

We just have to take His hand.

My wife and I were listening to an old hymn the other day on Youtube, done by one of our favorite Christian bands, Third Day. I knew the song’s words, and had heard it many times, but had never given much thought to where it came from. But after I finished writing the above few paragraphs, the melody began playing in my head, and I thought to look it up online (sidebar: man, has the internet ever changed everything).

Here’s just a partial paraphrase of what I found:

In 1873, blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby was visiting a friend who was having a new pipe organ installed in her home. While waiting for the work to be finished, Crosby’s friend played her some music she’d written on a nearby piano. When the friend asked Crosby what she thought the tune said, Crosby replied

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

I think that’s the most important thing Jesus offers:

Blessed assurance.

Here’s the clip we listened to: