It was 9:30 on Saturday night the weekend after Christmas. We had driven 16 hours in one day and it was time to settle into a hotel. I had visions of my son waking up in Sedona and we would relive the western movies as the highlight of our trip from Wisconsin to California. My dreams quickly shifted as each hotel sign read, “No Vacancy.” No problem. We headed up to Flagstaff—there were tons of hotels there. Forty miles later we entered Flagstaff. The Christmas lights twinkled against the snowy background. The bustle of the city felt welcoming to our weary minds. We stopped at the Super 8. No vacancy. Days Inn. No vacancy. Marriott. No vacancy. I drove to the next set of hotels, and each one no vacancy. The expensive hotels. No vacancy. I drove down the main strip, into every little dive hotel. Before we could climb out of the car the sign switched to No Vacancy. How can a city with more than 70 hotels not have a room! The people coming out of the hotel were the same ones we saw at the last stop—they too were looking. No Vacancy. I was beginning to feel like Mary and Joseph entering Bethlehem with no room for them to sleep.
Finally—one lone hotel—vacancy! I pulled in, ran into the office. It offered a king bed and we needed two beds. I went out to ask my son what he wanted to do. I stood there in amazement as a lady in a white pick-up and red trailer drove by the side of my parked car, scraping the entire driver’s side with her trailer until our tires locked together and she could drive no further. When she got out of her truck, she looked at me and said, “Don’t think I am going to be entirely responsible for this!”
Not only was there no room in the inn, now my donkey was broken! We were hours from home, it was 25 degrees out, the car was broken, and the only hotel room available just went to the next person. I imagine the people Mary and Joseph encountered as rude and uncaring as my encounter in Flagstaff—every aspect from the neon signs, the tired people trying to find a place to stay, the angry front desk clerks, and the faultless woman in the truck, it all said, ‘Go away! You are not welcome!’ Flagstaff may not have been Bethlehem, but it was that night.
Have you ever felt so unwelcomed? Have you made someone else feel that way? Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem after traveling for days across the desert. Bethlehem means house of bread. Imagine a city full of bakeries…can you smell the aroma of bread drifting through the air? Bethlehem was bustling with activity. It was time for the census. People were gathering with cousins and old friends similar to a family or class reunion, filling up every room available. The city that was full of life was not warm, but cold. The people had cold hearts and the innkeepers were tired of answering the door: “go away, we are full!” Regardless of the people or location and hospitality available, the baby Jesus was born.
This Advent/Christmas season many people will close the doors on others who are in need. Every Christmas, Christ tries to enter into a world that is cold and uncaring, but a few will welcome him with loving hearts. There are many people waiting for someone who has arrived already to the majority of the world but not to them. They are waiting for new liberation from the pains of AIDS; from the frustration of immigration; for the curing of their addictions; waiting for the promise of new life and hope when life doesn’t seem to let up. How will you prepare your heart to receive the gift of love? In what ways can you share the love of God with someone close to you or a stranger in need? How can you be a channel of God’s care for them? May the Spirit of God open your heart, minds, and doors to welcome the Christ child with love.
Rev. Susan Oeffler