"There's no room here, or at the Holiday Inn, the Days Inn or the C'mon Inn," the desk clerk said shaking his head. "The Shriners' have a gathering downtown, the Mary Kay convention is at the Coliseum and there's a quilt show at the Marriott."
This was not welcome news. It was a cold, autumn night in Bismarck and we had just finished a four hundred mile motorcycle trip across Minnesota and North Dakota.
"Please ... really ... We'll take anything," I said, starting to worry.
"There is NO room here," he said with an impatient twinge in his voice. "The best you can do is ride up to Fort Mandan and try the Sunset Motel."
"But that's thirty miles!" I said.
"Yup," he said. "And you'd better hurry, they'll probably fill up too."
Exhausted and cold, we fired up the Road King and headed for Mandan. As we crested the last hill before our exit, we saw the sign in the distance: an antiquated neon marker with a few letters of the motel name missing. "Sun Mo" it proudly flashed. Unfortunately, the room matched the dilapidated sign: a tiny cubby hole with worn carpets, a cigarette-burned bedspread and a sign in the bathroom that read, "Please don't use towels to clean guns."
We didn't care. We didn't have guns. More importantly, we were out of the cold in a place we could lay our heads. That was comfort enough.
I sometimes remember that odyssey across North Dakota when Christmas rolls around. It reminds me of Mary and Joseph's odyssey through the mountains to Bethlehem only to be told "there's no room at the inn." It's an experience many of us have had; some on a road trip ... others of us in life.
For eight million American children, there is no room at the "inn" of healthcare;
For ten percent of Americans, there is no room at the "inn" of full employment;
For 925 million people globally, there is no room at the "inn" of food and sustenance;
And for approximately three million Americans (40% of whom are children), the only room available is a homeless shelter.
One of the more troubling "no vacancy" signs is the one hung out by the church.
Some church "inn keepers" say there is no room at the inn for those of different religions, races or sexual orientation.
For some, the church is reserved for the paying customers, the high rollers, the VIPS.
For others, the church is a place to escape, feel safe and be protected against "those people" who don't have reservations.
Oh there's room at the inn for certain select people. A recent report on top corporate bonuses shows that for 2010 Heinz paid $8.5 million to its CEO and Oracle's CEO received $6.5 million. No manger for them. However, in the world at large there are many this holiday season who know first hand what it feels like to be turned away, left out, or rejected; who know what it's like to be told "there is no room at the inn."
Mary and Joseph knew what it felt like. Jesus did too. How ironic, given that he spent his entire adult life doing the opposite -- "making room" for everyone at the inn and the banquet table.
My Christmas hope for 2010 is that we honor Jesus' legacy; that we recognize there is room at the inn - at every inn - whether economic, social, political or religious; that we realize we are the innkeepers that can insure everyone is welcome. This Christmas, search the inn of your own heart -- make room -- so that all of God's children may find a place to lay their heads. Or in the words of the beloved Christmas hymn: "Let every heart, prepare Christ room, and heaven and nature sing."
A longer version (but not too long :) will be delivered on December 26, 2010 at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. http://www.mabcnyc.org/mabc-audio.htm