There are plenty of places where I am completely out of my element: department stores, especially the cosmetic section; a golf course, any golf course; and watching an episode of “Glee” on television. I do not pretend to be adept in any and all environments. Barns, however, I know about. I was practically, much to the chagrin of my beloved wife and other refined folk, raised in a barn. The dairy barn of my childhood was unbearably hot in the summer, with the body heat of twenty cows mixed in with the stifling air perfumed with grain, dust, and goodness knows what else. In the wintertime it could be equally miserable. Often cold and wet, the only source of warmth was a small gas heater that thawed our wet hands in between milkings. On particularly bitter days the end of a cow’s tail could provide an uncomfortable swat if the dangling mud and manure was frozen. Nonetheless the barn was more or less home for a good portion of my childhood and it was in the barn that we shared stories, memories and passed along wisdom.
A stable is a more polite word for barn, but it is basically the same thing: housing for livestock. Even the cleanest of stables are nothing more than a barn filled with the sights, sounds and, yes, smells of animals.
Quite an amazing beginning for the birth of God, don’t you think? Over the centuries we have domesticated our stables and imagined them as quaint Italian villas along a hillside, forgetting or not really considering that it was just a barn. Perhaps we have overlooked the fact that stable is not actually mentioned in the birth narrative of Jesus – not once. All we have to go on is that Jesus was placed in a manger. In fact the Gospel of Luke mentions this three times, not wanting us to miss the point. Of course mangers were not in living rooms or inns, but in barns. When Luke tells us that God incarnate was placed in a manger, he reminds the reader, “because there was no room in the inn.” (2:7b)
God is not always where you think, because too, too often we do not have room either. We crowd God out with our own proclivities and biasness. Smug self-assurances masquerade our insecurities all the while not realizing God’s blessing is somewhere else. The Gospel gives us this simple little statement about there being no room in the inn and it became a symbol for Luke; a theme. Luke takes this one line, “There is no room in the inn,” and writes how this phrase was recurrent throughout Jesus’ ministry.
There was no room for Jesus in the economic world. Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:25
There was no room for Jesus in the legal and religious realm. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2
There was no room for Jesus in ordered society. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. Luke 23:24
Making room for the Holy is, I believe, a lifelong quest. We do not just emerge from the baptismal waters and say, “Well I have arrived!” Just when we think we have constructed an abode for the divine we realize our mangers are too small and God is on the move and the inn is never going to hold it all.
We are also about the task of making room for others, which is not easy either. Like a crowded elevator that opens up for more passengers to squeeze in we wonder, is there room for one more?
If we are not careful we may squeeze others out, and like the caricature we hold of the crotchety old innkeeper, we snap, “no room!” I see those who cannot find room nearly every day. I walk by them, step over them and pretend to look the other way. I am not just talking about homeless. I am talking anyone who feels like they do not belong – the hopeless, the friendless, the seeker and searcher.
Our calling – I contend our very purpose – as those who have come to the stable and gathered round the manger is to make room for one more. It’s a crowded stable, but there is always room for one more in God’s Holy Gathering.
May your home, your barn, your manger always have room for others, and thanks be to the Lord, that Christ has made room for you and me.