Sunday, December 25, 2005

No Room in the Inn

The Christmas story, according to Luke 2 begins like this:

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.

4 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. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 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.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Lk 2:1-7). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
No room in the inn. The poor innkeeper has taken it on the chin over the years. What a mean guy! If it had been a Motel 6, they would have left the lights on for Joseph and Mary. But it wasn't a Motel 6, or even a Holiday Inn Express. The "inn" referred to was likely a guest room in a Palestinian home. The Greek word used was κατάλυμα, a word which is only used three times in the NT (Mark 14:4; Luke 22:11; and this verse, Luke 2:7). The other two times it is used (in parallel passages), it clearly means "guest room". J. M. Diener notes, citing Terry Hulbert, who was Seminary/Grad School dean at Columbia International University while I was there, that "it would be strange that Luke would imbibe the same word with two different meanings, especially when he uses a different word (pandocheion) in 10:34 to describe an inn in the Parable of the Good Samaritan." The context of Luke 10:34 shows that πανδοχεῖον clearly is an inn, as verse 35 mentions the innkeeper (πανδοχεύς). Both words are hapax legomena, but the attestation for πανδοχεύς as an innkeeper seems to be strong.

Freeman, in The New Manners and Customs of the Bible says this about the κατάλυμα:

It is doubtful that inns, in the sense of public inns with a building, existed in Old Testament times. By the time of Christ, public inns could be found in Grecian and Roman lands. The Greek word for “inn” in the New Testament implies some type of stopping place for travelers. At times it refers to a public inn. Such an inn of the first century consisted primarily of a walled-in area with a well. A larger inn might have small rooms surrounding the court. People and animals stayed together. The primary services that could be depended upon were water for the family and animals and a place to spread a pallet.

In addition to referring to a public inn or lodging place, the same Greek word, kataluma, used in our text-verse, at times refers simply to a guest room in a private home (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11).

Freeman, J. M., & Chadwick, H. J. (1998). Manners & customs of the Bible. "Rewritten and updated by Harold J. Chadwick"--Cover.; Includes index. ([Rev. ed.].) (Page 500). North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

The stories of a malicious innkeeper make interesting material for Christmas pageants. What indicts Jesus' contemporaries, however, is not so much malicious intent, as it is apathy or disinterest. God incarnate broke into human history (John 1:14) on that lonely night. Most of Bethlehem was clueless as to what was taking place. Only a few rag-tag shepherds even took notice of the event. By and large, the first Christmas came and went, and few had room in their hearts for Messiah. John indicts Jesus' own for not receiving him (John 1:12). What is tragic is that the contemporary response to the reason for this season is still apathy. We would prefer to look at the December 26 store ads, to see how much we can save by spending beyond our means. We have shoved the Christ out of Christmas, by devoting our attentions elsewhere.

This morning, our family went to prepare breakfast for poor people at a local ministry called Watered Gardens. On a Sunday morning, that just happened to be December 25, a group of Joplin residents came out to get a hot breakfast served to them in the name of Jesus. It was a blessing to see those that work regularly in that outreach, loving people in the name of Jesus. My prayer is that they would find room for Christ in their hearts.

Max Lucado wrote from the traditional vantage point of the innkeeper, but ended up with an application that touches our response to the Christ:

Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.

She touches the face of the infant-God. How long was your journey!

This baby had overlooked the universe. These rags keeping him warm were the robes of eternity. His golden throne room had been abandoned in favor of a dirty sheep pen. And worshiping angels had been replaced with kind but bewildered shepherds.

Meanwhile, the city hums. The merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet. The innkeeper would never believe that he had just sent God into the cold. And the people would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility.

Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking.

Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?

Lucado, M. (1987). God came near : Chronicles of the Christ (Page 24). Portland, Or.: Multnomah Press.

As I reflect on this Christmas day, I pray that our focus would be on Him, rather than on all the other stuff that grabs our attention. May He richly bless you the Christmas day!

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