The Tale of the Cringy Christmas Story
Every Christmas season, for as long as I can remember, my dad has told the story of a local church’s nativity play. I don’t know where he read it, but the story made it into his rotation. He cries every year in the same places, and he recites the story as if it’s the first time we’ve ever heard it. I was probably a teenager when he first told it. And to use an expression my kids use about my stories, I thought it was pretty “cringy” back then. But a few years back, while dad was telling the story for the billionth time, the sheer beauty and simplicity of it finally washed over me. It illustrates just how thick we humans can be. Sometimes it takes a billion recitations before it sinks in.
Willy Pearly Had One Job
The story goes something like this. It was a cold winter night at the First Church of Somewhere, and everyone had gathered with anticipation for the annual church Christmas nativity play. The resident church play director was scrambling about nervously as parents and congregants settled in for a sweet performance starring local kids. The stage was set, and things went along nicely until it came to a particular moment featuring a ten-year-old boy named Willy Pearly. It’s important to note that Willy was a little bigger and slower than most kids his age. The director almost didn’t give Willy a speaking part in the play, but he wanted it so badly he eventually relented. So, Willy had one very simple job. When Mary and Joseph arrived in front of his inn, he was to say, “Sorry, there’s no room for you here!”
As Willy’s big moment approached, Mary and Joseph came to the first innkeeper, who sternly turned them away. They walked up to the second innkeeper, who sent them off with a harsh tone as rehearsed. If the crowd had been paying attention, they would have noticed that Willy had one gentle tear falling from his eye as the little couple drew near to his inn. Joseph, aka Edward Zilperneck, looked at Willy, the innkeeper, and pleaded, “Sir, my wife is about to have a baby, and we have no place to stay tonight. Can you please give us a room?” Then, almost bursting with emotion, Willy shouted at the top of his lungs, “Yes! Yes! Yes! You can have my room!”
There Wasn’t A Dry Eye in the Room
According to the legend, people from the First Church of Somewhere still say that was the best ruined Christmas nativity play ever in the history of Somewhereville. And everyone whose anyone remembers looking around after Willy shouted those infamous words and noticing there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Even old Mr. Cleaver, who had never cried once in his entire life, had misty eyes. And that was according to Mrs. Pliney, who had only once told a lie in her life, and that was when she was too young to know better. Mr. Cleaver denied having misty eyes that night, but several folks had noticed him suspiciously dabbing his face with a handkerchief. Anyway, that’s the story and everyone whose anyone seems to be sticking to it.
No Room in the Inn
It might interest you to know that only one of the four Gospels mentions the inn. Luke 2:7 states almost as an afterthought: 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. Some recent translations render the word inn as “guest room.” Almost like an ancient Airbnb situation. And over the years, church plays and portrayals have added many things into the actual biblical narrative. For example, the Bible never mentions an innkeeper or a housekeeper or describes how Mary and Joseph were turned away. So how did they find a stable? Who gave them access to a manger? We don’t have many details about the events that unfolded that night. But the detail-oriented Luke wanted us to be aware that there was no room wherever it was that Joseph and Mary tried to stay that night.
Regardless of whether it was a hotel, motel, inn, Airbnb, or a distant cousin’s spare bedroom, they were turned away from somewhere by someone. I’ll forever picture an innkeeper in my mind because of the thousands of church plays I’ve seen. But whoever did the rejecting looked at a woman on the verge of giving birth and said some version of I just don’t have room for you here. Maybe they felt awful about sending them away. Or perhaps they convinced themselves their actions were justified in some way. Possibly they didn’t feel any remorse at all. Wouldn’t you love to know all those little details?
We’re All Innkeepers
I think Willy had the right idea. I mean, if a pregnant woman came to your door in desperate need, wouldn’t you feel compassion and a desire to help? I could handle a few nights sleeping on the floor to help a couple in that kind of dire situation. But that innkeeper had reasons to move them along. Reasons that probably made perfect sense in his mind. And the reality is this. We’re all just like that innkeeper. Each of us chooses to let Jesus in or tell Him to try somewhere else. There are dozens, if not hundreds of other things competing for occupancy in our hearts, but here’s the thing – Jesus isn’t going to compete. He’ll just patiently knock until the day comes when He’ll knock no more. So, we either make room and let Him in, or we don’t.
We’re all just like that innkeeper. Each of us chooses to let Jesus in or tell Him to try somewhere else.Tweet
There are dozens, if not hundreds of other things competing for occupancy in our hearts, but here’s the thing – Jesus isn’t going to compete. He’ll just patiently knock until the day comes when He’ll knock no more.Tweet
A Perfectly Prepared Place
Here’s a beautiful passage of Scripture where Jesus described Heaven: In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3). Isn’t it amazing that Jesus was rejected before He was even born, yet He’s preparing a perfect eternal dwelling-place for us? But Jesus is also the only entrance into Heaven. He said it many times in various ways, but one that sticks out is when Jesus said, “I am the gate, anyone who enters through me will be saved (John 10:9).”
Isn’t it amazing that Jesus was rejected before He was even born, yet He’s preparing a perfect eternal dwelling-place for us?Tweet
If You Want Room, Make Room
In a sense, the roles will reverse in the afterlife. Then, suddenly, instead of knocking and pleading for entrance into our lives, Jesus becomes the cosmic gatekeeper of Heaven. At that moment, we will be desperately begging for a room in that perfectly prepared place called Heaven. We’ve all heard people ask, “How could God keep anyone out of Heaven?” And the answer to that question is relatively simple, He gave us the right to reject Him in this world, but He reserves the right to deny us in that world. Heaven is His house, after all. Jesus won’t trespass His way into our hearts, and we can’t trespass our way into His home.
How to Make Room for Jesus
You might be asking, “How do I make room for Jesus?” Well, the initial act of letting Jesus in from a theological standpoint is repentance (Acts 3:19). But what differentiates Pentecostal theology from Baptist theology (among others) is the understanding that Jesus doesn’t dwell inside us at repentance. Repentance cleans the house and gets all the gunk and cobwebs out. Along with that massive house cleaning, repentance opens the door to Jesus and lays the welcome mat out. The infilling of the Holy Ghost, first evidenced by supernaturally speaking with other unlearned languages, is literally God taking residence inside of us (Acts 2:4, Acts 4:31).
What differentiates Pentecostal theology from Baptist theology (among others) is the understanding that Jesus doesn’t dwell inside us at repentance.Tweet
Repentance cleans the house and gets all the gunk and cobwebs out. Along with that massive house cleaning, repentance opens the door to Jesus and lays the welcome mat out.Tweet
The infilling of the Holy Ghost, first evidenced by supernaturally speaking with other unlearned languages, is literally God taking residence inside of us (Acts 2:4, Acts 4:31).Tweet
Over time, old spirits, habits, things, and thoughts try to creep their way back into our lives. And if we entertain those things too long, the Holy Spirit will not remain inside, which brings us full circle back to a need for repentance. On a lesser scale, sometimes things that aren’t necessarily sinful are edging Jesus out of our lives. Our jobs keep us too busy to give God the time He deserves. Financial stress maxes out our faith, and we slip into fear. We get so caught up in activities, entertainment, leisure, sports, or hobbies that they push Jesus right out of the picture. Jesus won’t throw a fit about it. Instead, He’ll just quietly slip out the door and start knocking all over again until we finally let Him back inside where He belongs.