In our rush to the Nativity and the birth of Jesus Christ I have long felt that we miss an important message and principle from the Christmas story. The Gospel of Luke records, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” It has always struck me that this famous verse of scripture does not say, “there was no room in the inn.” It says, “there was no room for them in the inn.”
It is easy to assume that there were simply no rooms available because the town was so crowded with throngs of citizens returning to their own city to be taxed. I have been in large cities during international athletic events, national political conventions and global business conferences where every hotel posted the “no rooms available” sign. But there is always a room. For the right price, the right connection, the right person — there is always a room for them in the inn.
If Joseph and Mary were wealthy, I believe there would have been room for them. If they were people of prominence or politically powerful, I am certain there would have been room for them. If they were well-connected or members of the Bethlehem business elite, I'm confident there would have been room for them.
Perhaps, on Christmas Day, we should examine our personal roles as innkeepers. Do we have or will we make room for the “for them” people in our lives? We too often look down on those who would clearly be considered the “for them” crowd. Some are easy to identify, including the homeless, lawless and drug addicted. We can see other “for them” souls in the struggling poor, the fearful refugee or the child in need of a foster parent or an adoptive family. We are surrounded by and often brush past “for them” people in those who silently suffer with depression, mental disorders, loneliness or illness. And we create classes of “for them” individuals as we block, reject, scorn or ignore those who believe differently than we do politically, religiously or philosophically.
Growing up in a family of 11 children, rooms were perpetually at a premium. The doubling up of beds in all the rooms didn’t really solve the problem. The “Matheson Family Inn” was forever bursting at the seams. Yet, I cannot remember a single time growing up that we didn’t have one or two extra souls staying in our home.
Whenever a challenging situation arose, for anyone, my mom and dad immediately responded by saying, “We have room for them.” A teenager who was having difficulties at home found a place to sleep and an understanding adult because Bob and Carol had room for them. A woman going through a difficult divorce found a safe space to regroup and build a new life because Bob and Carol had room for them. College students, returned missionaries, and even many of us kids who needed to return home during a difficult personal or financial time were all grateful there was room.
Holly Richardson and her husband Greg may be the ultimate innkeepers who have created room for them. They have 24 children, 20 of which were adopted, from eight different countries, many with special needs or challenges. I remember watching her family at a graduation ceremony some time ago. My first thought was that this was a beautiful, one-family United Nations. I immediately noticed and felt the depth and power of the love they had for each other as I watched how they treated and helped one another. The lives of these children could have been very, very different — I said a silent prayer of thanks that Holly and Greg made room for them in their inn.
We have so many individuals, groups and organizations in our community who regularly make room for the “for them” folks around us.
Today, many of us will sing the familiar Christmas hymn "Joy to the World." We would be wise to listen to the echo of the refrain, “Let every heart prepare him room.” There are many around us who are hoping and praying that there is room for them in our inns, in our homes, in our lives and in our communities.
Will we make room for them in our inn?
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.