Joy and Advent: A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship
by Rev. Lee Johnson
December 12, 2021
This Sunday, we light the “special” Advent Candle, the one marked by a “pink” color. Have you ever wondered “why?” The candle goes by the name of “Joy.” When it comes to Christmas, there is to be something special about the joy it brings. Here’s one way of looking at this joy: for someone who doesn’t have a name or face, the Innkeeper in the Gospel of Luke’s Christmas Story is just about the most villainized “person” in all the Bible. Most Christmas Pageants portray a heartless Innkeeper cruelly turning aside Joseph, and a pregnant Mary. Luke never writes such a scene into the Gospel, but over time, the legend of a Grinch-like Innkeeper has come to life in Christmas folklore. It’s as though a good story always needs a scapegoat. I can’t imagine my parents boastfully writing in the family Christmas letter: “and this year we were so proud of Lee when he played the Innkeeper in the church Christmas Pageant.” No one wants to be the one who shuts the door on the Christ Family. In Luke’s Gospel, the Innkeeper never holds human form. Yet, we often tell the story as though the Innkeeper is right there. Why do you think that is? What’s the significance behind an Innkeeper who says, “No, go away?” What joy does the Innkeeper bring to the story?
The Innkeeper tells the truth, the Inn is full. Joseph and Mary arrived at a busy Bethlehem. The town was full of visitors, there to register for the census and pay taxes, as decreed by Emperor Augustus. There simply was no room. That’s the truth. It’s a Christmas fact. Since folklore has taken the liberty of revising the script to make for a Christmas Pageant scapegoat, why not revise it a bit more, and save the Innkeeper? Said the Innkeeper to Joseph and Mary, “I am sorry to tell you we have no room.” Then, looking at a pregnant Mary, he said, “It’s obvious you need a place to stay. Try the Stable across town. It’s a bit rustic, but they usually have a place.” Of course, we know they did – find the Stable. Truthfully, regardless of how you view this story, the Innkeeper pointed the way. Sometimes the truth can be hard to hear. Have you ever experienced a “hard to hear” truth? What options do you have when the truth is hard to hear? Now, what role does joy play in the (revised) story?
So imagine the joy Joseph and Mary felt on finally arriving at the Stable and learning there was a “room.” Soon, it would become the very place where Jesus was born into the world, a room with no doors, full of travelers and animals from across the land. This scene gives us great joy. It warms human hearts for another year, even if the year turns cold. So, let’s carry the folklore a little further: what if the Innkeeper would have found room in his Inn? Well, that’s no place for Jesus to be born, a spacious luxury Inn. Would a luxurious Inn warm our hearts? Aren’t you glad the Innkeeper pointed the way to the Stable? Hard to hear truth can have many layers to it. What appears unredeemable, a truth that shuts a door, may lead to an even more important truth, a room with doors open to the world. On this Sunday in which we light the candle of Joy, that’s a truth we need to hear. (And, by the way, wouldn’t you be proud to have your child play the role of this kind of Innkeeper?) Have you ever experienced a “hard to hear” truth that lead the way to a greater truth? In a way, the Innkeeper points the way to Christmas joy!
Luke 2: 1-7
Asbury's Weekend Worship: https://www.visitasbury.org/worship/
Beginning Sunday, December 12 at 11:00 am for Live-Stream, or 5:00 pm for Recorded Worship
Make my heart joyful today, O God.