You know what I love about the details the Biblical writers included in their accounts? The specific people and locations and time periods they explicitly name? These details firmly root these events in historical reality – these are real people, in real places, at specific times – which are historically verifiable!
I always cringe a bit whenever we refer to events in the Bible as “stories” – and I do it, too! Calling them “stories” makes them sound fictional or legendary or something… But the events in this Book are not just stories or fables or traditions or legends. They really happened!
Here, in Luke 2, a very real couple journeyed 90 miles by foot. And they did so during the final month of the woman’s pregnancy.
Imagine that ladies: imagine you are 38 weeks pregnant when you and your fiancé receive an edict from the emperor that you both are required to appear in your hometown in order to be registered in the census and pay your taxes in person.
Are you with me? There are no cars, no trains, no teleportation devices. No hotels or AirBnBs along the way. No Cracker Barrels or Waffle Houses or convenience stores along the way… Just you, your fiancé, and your very nearly full-term baby.
How long would it take you to walk 90 miles in those conditions? I’m thinking about myself & Dianna when she was pregnant with Eli – I have no idea how long it would’ve taken us to walk to Atlanta from our home in Columbus in the final month of her pregnancy! Most experts conclude it probably took Joseph & Mary between 7-10 days to complete the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
And by the time they arrive, Mary is having contractions. She is actively going into labor. Her water breaks in an unfamiliar town that is filled with travelers from all over Israel who have all returned to their ancestral homeland to obey the emperor’s decree of census and taxation.
The home stadium of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team is called Memorial Stadium. It’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, and during home games, the stadium itself becomes the third largest “city” in Nebraska by population!
That’s what Bethlehem was like during the census: like Auburn or Athens or Tuscaloosa during a big home game – there was no available space anywhere! Nothing – not a house, a room, a bed to be found.
Now, the Bible doesn’t identify a specific inn-keeper – it just informs us there was no room for Joseph & Mary in the inn in Bethlehem. But, of course, someone had to give them that news – someone had to be there, looking after the accommodations of the town, even if they were all full…
I wonder… what have you ever thought about this mysterious inn-keeper whenever you have heard the traditional re-telling of the birth of Jesus? I grew up kind-of mythologizing a cold-hearted businessman who shut his door on this exhausted couple with a woman in labor.
But as the years have gone by, I’ve begun think about the inn-keeper a little differently than our traditions tell us. I think of him seeing this couple, looking back over his over-crowded facilities, and saying to himself, “I have got to find a place for this…”
And so, he wracks his brain, and realizes he does have a warm space, out of the elements, that he can provide, and so he leads them to the best place he has available: a stable for animals.
Now we think, “Ew! Gross! This first-time mother had to deliver her Baby in a barn – that’s the same place where animals were eating and sleeping and using the bathroom!” But – it a had a roof, and it probably had at least three walls to break the wind. And it had hay, which was something softer to lay in than the cold hard cobblestones of the Bethlehem streets…
“I have to find a place for this…”
We have been focusing on prayer over the past several months, and this month, we are thinking about prayer specifically in light of Christmas – the Advent of the Savior to the world – and what I see in this portion of the Christmas event is that prayer is disruptive.
I found this definition of disrupt that says, “to interrupt an activity, event, or process by causing a disturbance or problem.”
Prayer is Disruptive. Like how the Advent of the Savior into this world was disruptive. Jesus’ birth was a massive disruption to the engagement of this young couple from Nazareth, Joseph & Mary. Jesus’ birth was a massive disruption in the tiny village of Bethlehem that was swarming with travelers from all throughout the Empire.
The birth of Jesus was a massive disruption to the Roman Empire itself. It was a disruption to the expectations of the people of Israel, to the way they thought their Messiah-King would come. And Jesus’ birth was the defining disruption to the sin-cursed course of human history!
And for a moment in time, the eyes of all of heaven, and the attention of all the earth, were centered upon a newborn Baby, lying in a manger, in a lowly stable in the humble shepherd-village of Bethlehem in Judea.
Prayer disrupts. Prayer is disruptive. Prayer is how we bring Jesus into our world. In a way, prayer is Advent: it is an arrival of the Spirit of Christ into the moment in which the prayer is taking place.
When someone tells me they are struggling with a bad habit or an addiction or a consistent temptation, I tell them to pray. Whenever I am facing temptation myself, I invite Jesus into that moment of temptation with me. “Join me here, Lord Jesus. I need You now, as always! Be with me in this moment of temptation.” It’s a disruption! It disrupts the momentum of the tempting moment to bring Jesus into it through prayer!
Whenever we feel lost or confused, anxious or afraid – we can disrupt those feelings with prayer. We can bring Jesus into those feelings through prayer.
Whenever we are angry or frustrated at a co-worker; when our communication with someone in our home is just not working; when there is any fighting or arguing in any relationship; we can disrupt those dominoes by bringing Jesus into the moment through prayer.
When we are discouraged. When we are doubting ourselves. When we think we’re not good enough… Invite Jesus in. Invite Him in through prayer. We can let prayer disrupt our moments, our days, and our lives.
I imagine the inn-keeper – he is having his busiest night in ten years. He’s already double-booked multiple rooms. He’s already accommodated more than he has room for. And here comes this desperate couple, and young woman going into labor no less – and I imagine him saying to himself, “I have to a place for this…”
That has to be our mindset with prayer: “I have to find a place for this…” Especially if it is a prayer of disruption.
If we’re honest, when is prayer ever convenient? Honestly? Sometimes, we look at people we consider to be “super-spiritual” and we think, “oh it’s easy for them to pray…” But it’s not! Prayer is disruptive. Prayer is a voluntary act of disruption – it is an inconvenience that we have to choose to have – we have to decide that we are going to interrupt our days and interrupt our lives with prayer – it’s like how I’ve imagined the inn-keeper in Bethlehem, thinking to himself, “I have to find a place for this…”
We’ve recommended a variety of prayer resources for you over the past couple months – many of them are rooted in ancient traditions of prayer – these are methods of praying that Christians have practiced for centuries.
One of these is known as “the daily office” – it’s a ten-minute devotional you can do in the morning, afternoon, or evening, and Christians have practiced some form of “daily office” for centuries.
Daniel, in the Old Testament – he stopped whatever he was doing three times a day, every single day, no matter where he was or what was going on, in order to pray. Zechariah was in the Temple at “the time of prayer” in Luke 1. Peter and John were in the Temple at “the time of prayer” in Acts 3.
I have two daily alarms set in my phone: one at 10:02 and one at 3:07. Every day at 10:02, when my alarm buzzes in my pocket, I pray the words of Luke 10:2 for God to send more workers into His harvest fields, that the Great Commission may be brought closer to completion in our day. And then at 3:07, my alarm buzzes again, and it reminds me to pray for the ministry of Teen Advisors among middle school & high school students all throughout this community. Each of these prayers takes about 15-30 seconds – that’s it! But it is an intentional disruption in my day, every single day, to remember these two specific things in prayer.
Say it with me: “I have to find a place for this…”
Did you know that you can bring Jesus into any conversation you are having with another person through prayer? Whenever someone shares a need or a concern with you, you can say, “Would you mind if I prayed for that now?” Whenever someone tells you about a tough situation, you can say, “I’m so sorry about that – may I pray for you?” One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is to say, “Gosh, that’s terrible – and I don’t know what to do… but we can pray and ask God together…”
Prayer is an act of disruption. Prayer is how we bring Jesus into our world:
• Into our circumstances.
• Into our homes.
• Into our schools.
• Into our workplaces.
• Into our neighborhoods and apartment complexes.
Prayer is how we bring Jesus
• into our temptations,
• into our frustrations,
• into our pain,
• into our apathy,
• into our anxiety,
• into our disappointment…
We can choose – we can opt – to disrupt our days to bring Jesus into the situation with us through prayer.
The truth is, we find room, we make space for what is most important to us. And like the inn-keeper in Bethlehem, we say, “I have to find a space for this…”
BENEDICTION: May the Lord bless You and be with You this Christmas week. May the gifts and foods and lights and songs raise up your hearts and thoughts to Him Who is God-with-us, the Savior to all, Who lives and reigns for ever and ever, Amen.