No Vacancy?

When I was a little kid, our family used to take car trips across the Southwest. We’d get in the station wagon (remember those?) and we’d drive out to Utah, or Arizona, or New Mexico. We never camped. We always stayed in motels. Sometimes we ‘d drive until way past dinnertime and arrive in a small town looking for a place to stay. We’d pass the nicer motels, the Best Westerns, even the Motel 6, and always, at that hour, the same red neon sign warned us away. What’d it say? “No Vacancy.”

No vacancy. Just two words, but they communicated a bunch more. Too late. All full. Keep moving. Not wanted. We’d press on and finally we’d find room in a seedier motel on the outskirts of town. “No Vacancy.” Not a great sign.

Imagine how Mary and Joseph felt…
Mary and Joseph had walked and camped for about a hundred miles just to get to Bethlehem. They were tired, Mary was in pain and ready to give birth—and the same sign met them: “No vacancy.” The Bible says that she “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Our Christmas pageant this evening explores this story. The Hotel Bethlehem has reached capacity. There’s no vacancy. What will happen to the holy family? Will there be room for them? Will people make space for them?

It’s a foreshadowing of the life of Jesus.
You see, in Jesus, God travels all the way from heaven to earth to get close to human beings. God literally comes to live within us, to re-connect us with himself. The New Testament says that Jesus came in order that he “might dwell in our hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17). As with Hotel Bethlehem, there’s a dramatic tension: will there be room in our hearts for Jesus? Or will we already be full up?

So many things compete for residency in our hearts.
Our jobs, our families, our health, the economy, our retirement savings, the world—all of them demand entry and cry out for room. And this season is even more crowded with all the stuff and things trying to barge in: card-writing, tree-trimming, gift-buying, package-wrapping, party-going, cookie-baking, eggnog-drinking—the list is endless.Will we let all this stuff in? If we do, we’ll quickly reach capacity. And when Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts, that same red neon sign will warn him away: “No Vacancy.”

There’s a great, but little-sung, Christmas carol that captures this theme. It’s called “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne.” Listen to the words of the first verse…

Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown when thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.

What’s your heart’s capacity this Christmas? What sign greets Jesus as he comes looking for room? Is it the dreaded red neon one that says “No Vacancy”? Or is it one that says: “Room Left! Come on in!”?

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