“NO ROOM in the INN” the sign proclaims on the make-shift inn created by the Sunday schoolers for their Christmas pageant. The beautiful story of our Savior’s birth will soon be portrayed by the youngest members of our church family. As the students and teachers make the final preparations for this year’s production, my mind contemplates the words on the sign — “NO ROOM in the INN.”
The sign is taken right from the book of Luke, And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Why do these words from the Christmas story strike such a chord with me? Is it because God allowed me to share in Mary’s experience? Is it because He showed me “NO ROOM in the INN?”
Not once, not twice, but three times God let me be pregnant and then moved us to a new place! In each instance, during a span of 18 years, a home, a job, and our future were uncertain. Oh, how I wrestled with God each time! And just as He provided a stable for Mary and baby Jesus, God provided homes for us, from a rustic cabin in the mountains to a spacious home near town. But best of all, He gave us the babies.
The Sunday schoolers suspend my thoughts for the moment, now parading onto the stage in their costumes. Instead of the usual bathrobes and shepherds’ staffs, they are dressed in modern outfits. One holds a sign that reads, “Super 8, No Vacancy.” Another says, “Holiday Inn Express, No Vacancy.” Another proclaims, “Comfort Inn, No Vacancy.” I look down the line at all the children, each with another hotel sign, all claiming, “No Vacancy.”
The last little girl comes in a red velvet dress. She has a different sign. It reads, “My Heart Inn.”
“Oh, what can this be?” I wonder. We sing “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” before the children commence with the play.
Mary and Joseph wander onto the modern Bethlehem stage, looking for a place to stay. First the Super 8 manager explains how he has no vacancy because of a cattlemen’s convention. He turns his sign so we can read, “No Vacancy, Welcome Cattlemen!” Next the Holiday Inn Express manager tells about the craft show people filling her motel. She turns her sign to read, “No Vacancy, Welcome Craft Fair!” The Comfort Inn manager is excited about the basketball tournaments in town and turns his sign to read, “No Vacancy, Welcome Basketball Players!” And on down the line it goes, with each motel manager giving reasons for no vacancy.
Finally we come to the little girl in the red velvet dress. This sweet little girl explains why her “My Heart Inn” has no vacancy. She turns her sign so we can read, “No Vacancy. Welcome American Girl dolls, video games, cell phones, ballet, new clothes, earrings…”
The congregation lets out a gasp. We are all so shocked, just sure the little girl was the one to welcome baby Jesus. We can’t believe it! How is it possible?! Such a sweet little girl with no room for Jesus. It causes us to think, “Are we making room in our hearts for Jesus? Is there room in ‘My Heart Inn?'”
And so Mary and Joseph continue outside into the cold. We see them standing outside the church window, shivering in the snow. There is an uncomfortable pause as we await whatever is next.
The little girl in the red velvet dress stands trembling in front of the congregation. Tears form in her eyes because she also sees Mary and Joseph outside. A sob escapes her as she cries, “Yes, baby Jesus, Yes! I do have room in my heart for You!”
The little girl tears up her “No Vacancy” sign and throws it into a nearby manger, sobbing uncontrollably on the alter steps. Tears spring from all eyes as we watch the little girl helplessly, not sure if we should go and comfort her. From out of the shadows appears an angel who reaches down and touches her, giving her a new sign.
Looking surprised, the girl in the red velvet dress stops crying to read, “My Heart Inn. Welcome Jesus.” She smiles, wiping away her tears, delighted with her new sign.
The pastor stops the production to point us to our church bulletins. Inside we find hearts like the “My Heart Inn – No Vacancy” sign. Pastor asks us what is filling our hearts, creating no room for Jesus? Is it money, things, toys, activities, computers, cars? He asks us to write it on the No Vacancy heart.
I consider my heart and the Christmas story. I didn’t really share in Mary’s ordeal. I don’t know what it is like to have a baby in a stable. I haven’t really shared in Jesus’ sufferings, from His humble birth to His sacrificial death. I ponder what to write on my heart, and then I know. I write down all my worries that keep me from trusting Jesus. I write down my busy projects I think I have to do for Him, when all He really wants is my heart.
Pastor invites us to come forward and leave our torn hearts in the manger, just like the little girl. There is not a dry eye as we file to the front of the sanctuary. Wise men and shepherds appear on the scene. They give each person who places a “No vacancy” heart in the manger a new heart that reads, “My Heart Inn. Welcome Jesus.”
The children’s choir softly sings, “Jesus is knocking at the door of my heart.” Then the congregation sings “The First Noel” and other Christmas hymns until the manger is overflowing with our torn hearts, and everyone in the congregation holds a new one. As the piano music ends, the girl in the red velvet dress runs to open the door for Mary and Joseph. The couple walks in holding baby Jesus, Who Mary carefully places in His manger bed (we wonder if He was born in the snow, but we don’t ask).
Pastor leads us in a prayer, asking God to help us truly give up these things that have cluttered our hearts, and for Jesus to fill our hearts instead. The prayer ends and we look up to see…
The little girl in the red velvet dress, standing behind the manger. She begins to sing, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart. Prepare Him room…” The children’s choir and the congregation all join her in singing this beautiful hymn.
Suddenly, with great joy, it is every holiday all mixed in one. There are red heart balloons with John 3:16 falling from the ceiling like Valentine’s Day. The Sunday School teachers bring in a cake for baby Jesus and we all sing “Happy Birthday to You!” The cross on the alter reminds us of Easter and Jesus’ reason for being born – to die. And outside the head elder sets off fireworks like the Fourth of July to celebrate our freedom from sin.
We gather our children in our arms and sing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” as we all share a piece of Jesus’ cake. And you know, I think it really will be a Merry Christmas this year. For this is the year Jesus found room at My Heart Inn.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. Revelation 3:20 (NKJV)
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)