Tuesday, December 25, 2018

There Was No Room in the Inn

(Christmas 2018: This homily was given on December 25, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2018]

Bishop Fulton Sheen once wrote the following: “When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest line of all will be, ‘There was no room in the inn.’”

There was no room in the inn.

We don’t know who the innkeeper was on that first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem some 2,000+ years ago.  The Bible doesn’t tell us.  He will remain forever nameless.

But Bishop Sheen was right in what he implied about this man.  The innkeeper of Bethlehem really is one of the most tragic figures in human history—not because he did anything openly malicious or hateful or devious, but simply because he missed out on a tremendous opportunity.  He turned away the Son of God, and so he missed out on the chance to have his life changed forever.  He missed out on the opportunity to discover who God really is, and the power of God’s love.  He missed out on the opportunity to discover the meaning and purpose of life.  He missed out on the opportunity to experience a joy and peace that no amount of money can buy. 

He missed out on all that—and a lot more!—because in effect he said to Jesus, “I’m sorry, but there’s no room for you tonight in my inn.”

Now I’m sure this innkeeper had his reasons for responding to Jesus, Mary and Joseph as he did.  Maybe he was just too busy.  The Bible makes it clear that business was quite good that December night in Bethlehem.  Lots and lots of people were pouring into the town for the census Caesar Augustus had ordered.  Maybe he just figured he didn’t have time to be bothered with this pregnant woman and her husband.  After all, he probably already had a pretty hectic schedule: beds to make, food to prepare, linens to wash, people to get settled in their rooms.  In his mind it might have required too much effort to take care of these ragged looking strangers from Nazareth who were standing in his doorway.

Or perhaps he was overly concerned with what he was going to get out of it financially—and even more importantly what he might not get out of it financially.  Joseph and Mary, after all, were definitely not the King and Queen of Sheba!  They were poor people—the Scriptures make that fact crystal clear.  I’m sure the innkeeper realized that the first moment he laid eyes on them.  So he knew they definitely were not going to be big tippers!  And he might even have wondered about their honesty—about whether or not they would pay their bill once their stay was over.

Or maybe it was just a case of fear—deep fear.  Remember, in front of his eyes this innkeeper saw a woman about to give birth to a child.  Babies, as you parents know all too well, tend to be noisy—especially when they’re hungry.  And newborn infants tend to be hungry a lot!

Perhaps this innkeeper was afraid that this baby would disturb his other guests, which of course would have been bad for his business—especially his future business.

Now you might say, “Well, this all very nice, Fr. Ray, but what does all of this have to do with me and my life in 2018?”

The answer is, “Quite a lot!”  You see, whether we’re aware of it or not, each and every one of us is, in a certain sense, an “innkeeper.”  And in our lives we constantly face the same decision that the innkeeper of Bethlehem faced on that first Christmas Eve.  Inside of us we have a kind of “inn,” and that inn is called a soul.  Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, desires very much to come into our “inns” and to do for us what he wanted to do for the innkeeper of Bethlehem: he wants to change our lives; he wants to help us know and experience God and his love as we never have before; he wants to help us discover the meaning and purpose of life; he wants to give us a joy and a peace that is beyond all human understanding. 

But the thing is, we have to let him in!  And that’s where we can so often fail—because we’re sinners.  So very often we can say (especially by our actions), “Sorry, Jesus, but there’s no room for you today in my inn.”  Those of you who are Catholic, for example, say this to the Lord every Sunday and holy day that you fail to attend Mass!  And isn’t it interesting, the excuses people tend to use for missing Mass are the very same ones that the innkeeper of Bethlehem might have used on the first Christmas Eve: “I don’t have time”; “I’m too busy”; “I have a hectic schedule”; “I have too many other things to do”.

But even those of us who are faithful to Mass are guilty of turning Jesus away from our “inns”.  That happens whenever we give in to fear and sin.  Earlier I said that the innkeeper of Bethlehem might have turned Jesus away because he was afraid.  He was afraid that our Lord would drive all his other guests out.  Well, that same kind of fear can very easily come into our hearts, even if we already have some level of commitment to the Lord.  You see, there are certain guests (besides Jesus) that are always trying to take up residence within us: guests like hatred, lust, anger, greed, selfishness, bitterness and pride.  When Jesus begins to come in, those other guests have to begin to pack their bags and get out.

Now that’s a good thing, but it’s a good thing that can actually fill us with fear, because the truth is that deep down inside we might like some of those other guests!  There are moments when we may enjoy being selfish or greedy or lustful or prideful.  And so we might be afraid that if we let Jesus in, we’ll have to give up too much, or we’ll lose some of our friends, or we won’t have fun anymore.

In short, we might be afraid that Jesus will come into our “inn” and change us too much!

The Lord says to each and every one of us on this Christmas Day, “Do not be afraid.  I love you.  I know what’s best for you.  Let me do for you what I could not do for the innkeeper of Bethlehem.  Let me give you a new peace, a new joy, a new direction in your life.  I came to this earth so that you might have the fullness of life.  Open up your heart to me today and begin to receive it.”