It was not surprising that there was no room in the Bethlehem inn for the holy family. Because of this Roman census or registration, everybody had to return to his hometown and be counted. Bethlehem's great claim to fame was that it was the home of King David. So, everybody who claimed King David as an ancestor (and there were thousands) returned to Bethlehem. This was the Bethlehem's innkeeper's big opportunity to make some serious money.
Usually in Christmas plays, the Bethlehem innkeeper is cast as something of a villain. We imagine some hard-hearted Scrooge so intent on money-making that he forgets all about hospitality.
I heard about a Jewish lady named Mrs. Rosenberg who some years ago tried to get a room at a very exclusive hotel on Cape Cod. This particular hotel was run by some haughty Protestants from Boston, and it excluded Jews. So, when Mrs. Rosenberg gave her name to the desk clerk, he said, "Sorry, we're all booked up." "But," she said, "You have a vacancy sign out front." The clerk stammered a bit and finally confessed, "Sorry, but we don't cater to Jewish persons." Mrs. Rosenberg stiffened noticeably and then said, "It may surprise you to know that I have converted to Christianity." "Is that so?" responded the clerk. "Let me give you a bit of a test. Where was Jesus born?" "In a stable in Bethlehem," she replied. "Who were his parents?" "Mary and Joseph," she answered. "Why was he born in a stable?" he asked. Rather loudly Mrs. Rosenberg replied, "Because a jerk like you wouldn't give a Jewish lady a room for the night."
It is doubtful that the Bethlehem innkeeper was an excluder. There is no reason to believe that he was a bad fellow at all. He was just very busy, taking care of his customers, making change in various currencies, and keeping peace among the guests. Privacy was minimal and I'm sure there were some guests who snored. The tragedy is that when the most important birth in human history took place in his backyard, he missed it entirely. Not because he was bad; he was just too busy.
The single biggest enemy of Christmas is not the ACLU. It's the cultural kidnapping of Christmas. The danger is that in the midst of all the busyness, buying, and partying, we will miss the real meaning of Christmas. Just like the Bethlehem innkeeper.
Now, my wife warned me not to fuss at you today. I have a cartoon somewhere that shows a woman greeting her pastor after a worship service. She says, "Nice deploring this morning, pastor. Nice deploring." Well, I want to do something more positive than deploring. So, I will offer six specific suggestions; these are listed in your bulletin. Each one has Scriptural backing.
FIRST, REPLACE SUPERFLUOUS GIFTS WITH MISSIONAL GIFTS.
Isn't it a shame that we buy lots of gifts that are not needed and often are never used? Think of the time we spend trying to think up gifts for people who don't need anything. I wonder how many Christmas neckties are relegated to the back of closets, never to see the light of day. Just think of the boxes of candy, country ham, peanuts, and jellies that are sent to people who need more calories about as much as Memphis needs more crime.