The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful and costly tombs in the world. The colorful legends which surround the building of the Taj Mahal are all fascinating. But, there is one that haunts and disturbs.
Shah-Jahan, the powerful Mogul emperor, was in grief. His favorite wife had died. He loved her deeply and he was devastated by her loss. He decided to honor her in a signal way. He would construct an incredible temple, the likes of which the world had never seen. The temple would serve as her tomb and would be a memorial tribute to her and the dramatic symbol of his love for her.
Her coffin was placed in the center of a large parcel of land and construction of the temple began around it. No expense would be spared. He wanted to make her final resting place magnificent and breathtaking.
But as the weeks turned into months, the Shah's grief was eclipsed by his passion for this building project.
--He no longer missed her.
--He hardly thought of her at all any more.
--He no longer mourned her absence.
--He was now totally consumed with the details of the building project.
--He was completely obsessed with the construction of the temple.
It's all he thought about. It was on his mind night and day-the building of this magnificent temple.
Then one day while hurriedly walking from one side of the construction site to the other, he accidentally bumped his leg against a wooden box. The prince was irritated by this. Impatiently, he brushed the dust off his leg and ordered the workers to throw the box out immediately. What was that box doing here in the middle of the building anyway? Get it out of here right now!
Shah-Jahan didn't realize that the box held the remains of his beloved wife. He threw out her coffin. He forgot she was there. (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, pp. 131-132)
The one the temple was built for was cast out. The one who inspired the whole project in the first place was now forgotten. The one the temple was intended to honor was harshly pushed aside, absentmindedly thrown away, blatantly ignored, but the temple was erected anyway. Isn't that amazing?
Could someone build a temple and forget why? Could someone sculpt a tribute and forget the hero? Could someone celebrate an anniversary and forget the guest of honor? Could someone create a memorial and forget who was supposed to be remembered?
This dramatic ancient legend is a painfully relevant parable for the way some people celebrate Christmas today, and the point is clear. Sometimes we get so involved in the tasks and details of Christmas that we forget the one we're honoring.
Five little words in the Gospel of Luke say it all: "No Room in the Inn."
There is a certain pathos in those words. "No room for you here." That was the beginning of the Master's life. That was the very first thing the world said to Jesus Christ, and that experience would plague him the remainder of his days on this earth, and, indeed, even to this present moment. "No room! We're just too crowded! Sorry, we're full up! No vacancy! Try again some other time. No room for you here right now. So, if you'll please excuse me, I've got a million and one things to see about. It's too bad, but there's just no room!"
Sadly, like Shah-Jahan, we get so busy with the details of the project that we forget the one the project honors.
Harry Emerson Fosdick once put it like this: "The crucial difficulty of Christ's life which denied him the service he longed to render, closed to him the hearts he longed to change and brought him at last to Calvary...was something so simple, so familiar, so little recognized as a tragic evil--so universal among us all, that one almost hesitates to name it-inhospitality. No Room!"
Let's be honest now. Isn't that our problem? Yours and mine? We get so busy, so tired, so preoccupied with the incessant demands on our crowded lives that we shut out the very birth of the Master we so long to know. The poet put it like this:
O little Inn of Bethlehem,
How like we are to you.
Our lives are crowded to the brim,
With this and that to do.
We're not unfriendly to the King,
We mean well without a doubt;
We have no hostile feeling,
We merely crowd him out.
Won't you let Him in this Christmas? Won't you offer him your warmest hospitality? Won't you welcome him into your life this year with open arms? Won't you receive him into your life as never before? Won't you make room for Him?
Let me bring this closer to home for us. Let me break this down a bit and be more specific. See if you can find yourself, or someone you know, somewhere between the lines.
First of all, won't you let him into your heart?
Won't you let your heart become a manger where the Christ Child can be born afresh in you?
Remember the old story about the little boy who was asked why he was a Christian. He answered, "I don't know for sure, but I think it runs in our family!"
Cute story, isn't it? But we need to hurriedly add a footnote. And the footnote is this: We can ride on the coattails of our Christian family for just so long, and then each one of us individually has to make his or her own personal decision for Jesus Christ. The family can help us here, and it's great when it does. But each of us at some time, at some point, has to make that personal decision to receive Christ into my heart. It's terrific when Granddad is a devoted Christian. It's wonderful when Mom is a committed disciple. It's fantastic if Dad is a consecrated churchman, but somewhere along the way, I have to make my own decision, my own commitment, my own acceptance of Christ as my personal Savior and Lord.
Let me ask you something: Have you made that decision yet? Have you invited him into your life? Have you made room in your heart yet for Christ? Won't you let Him come in?
It's amazing to see how many people today chase after happiness and fulfillment and spend so much time, effort, energy, and money looking at all the wrong places.
One right place to look is here in Luke 2, where we find these incredible words:
Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
The powerful Roman emperor Charlemagne made an unusual request with regard to his burial. He asked to be buried sitting upright on his throne with his crown on his head, his scepter in his hand, his royal cape draped around his shoulders and with an open book placed on his lap.
That was in 814 AD. Nearly two hundred years later, Emperor Othello wanted to see if Charlemagne's burial requests had indeed been carried out. He ordered that the tomb be opened. They found the body just as Charlemagne had requested. Only now, nearly two centuries later, the scene was gruesome. The crown was tilted on the skeletal head. The scepter was tarnished. The mantle was moth-eaten. The body disfigured.
But, there, on his lap was the book Charlemagne had requested-the Bible!! And one bony finger pointed to Matthew 16:26: "What does it profit...to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?"
That's the first thought...won't you let him into your heart?
Second, won't you let him into your attitudes?
The real key in whatever we do is our attitude. It's really not so much what we do as how we do it and why. Attitudes, motivations, that's what Jesus talked about most, and that's what he was interested in.
For example, think about the innkeeper in the Christmas story. If, on the one hand, he said to Mary and Joseph, "Get out of here. I'm full up! Don't want to be bothered with the likes of you!" That's one thing.
But, on the other hand, if he said to Mary and Joseph, "Look, my friends, all my rooms here in the hotel are taken, but I see that you need help, and I know a place-a quiet, private place." That's a different story, and the difference is in the attitude.
Attitude is the key to life. Change your attitudes and you change your life. It's not just what you do, but how you do it and why. The attitude with which you do it, that's what really counts!
One of the most beloved legends of Christmas is "The Little Drummer Boy." When the Christ Child was born, many beautiful gifts were brought to the manger, gifts of great beauty and splendor. But one small boy was very poor, and he had nothing to offer the Lord, and this made him very sad. But then he thought, "I know what I can do! I can play my drum for him!" And so he did-"Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum." He played with all the love in his heart. And as he played-according to the legend-the Christ Child smiled, showing that at Christmas, the gift of love is the best gift of all.
You see, it was not so much what the drummer boy did as how and why he did it. The real key was not his drum playing; I'm sure there were better drummers around. It was his attitude. The attitude of love-that's what made the Christ Child smile. It still does.
Through the years, I've noticed that, broadly speaking, we can divide the people of the world into two groups-those who are spiritually healthy and those who are spiritually sick. Those who are spiritually sick go through life screaming "For God's sake, love me, love me!" while those who are spiritually healthy go through life saying, "For God's sake, let me love others."
Dr. Thomas Malone, a psychiatrist in Atlanta, puts it like this:
In my practice at the Atlanta Psychiatric Clinic, people sometimes ask me what psychiatry is all about. To me, the answer is increasingly clear. Almost every emotional problem can be summed up in one particular bit of behavior-it's a person walking around screaming "For God's sake, love me!" Love me, that's all. He goes through a million different manipulations to get somebody to love him.
On the other hand, healthy people are those who walk around looking for someone to love. And if you see changes in the people who are screaming "Love Me! Love Me!" it's when they realize that if they give up screaming and go to the other business of loving another human being, they could get the love they've been screaming for all their lives. It 's hard to learn, but it's so good when you learn it.
It's all in the attitudes. In part, conversion means moving from "Please love me" to "Please let me love you." Jesus taught us that a long time ago. It's precisely what happened to Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus and the Prodigal Son. Grace changed their attitudes. Grace made them gracious.
This is the good news of Christmas, isn't it? We're loved!! So now we can be loving.
Won't you let him into your heart? And won't you let the Christ Child into your attitudes?
Finally, won't you let him into your Christmas?
Strange that we have to say that, but we do.
Each year at Christmas, my mind darts back to a television program I saw in the 1960s. Of course, I was a mere child at the time. Remember the old television show called "I've Got a Secret"? Gary Moore was the host. People would come on with unusual secrets, and a panel of celebrities would ask them questions, then try to guess their secret.
The particular program I'm recalling right now is something of a parable for the way we sometimes celebrate Christmas. A group of people in Ohio decided to give a man a surprise birthday party. They got together and organized the party in great detail. They set up several committees to take care of the arrangements for food and entertainment and decorations and all the rest.
There was a great hustle and bustle of excitement and busyness as they made ready for the big event. Finally, the evening of the party arrived and all was in readiness. The hall was rented. The decorations were in place and they were terrific. The food was prepared. It looked sumptuous. The entertainment was rehearsed and ready. The friends were all gathered and excited. The lights and sound were set to perfection.
Then, suddenly, they realized something! They realized that everything had been taken care of in splendid fashion-except for one thing. They had quite simply forgotten the single most important thing-they had forgotten to invite the guest of honor. So they had the party without him.
The man's secret was that he had not been invited to his own birthday party.
There's a sermon there somewhere and it has to do with Christmas. Won't you let him in? This year, as never before, won't you let him into your heart? Won't you let him into your attitudes? Won't you let him into your Christmas?
Let's bow together for just a moment of prayer.
O, God, we ask that you would give us a great Christmas this year. Let the Christ Child be born afresh within us. We pray in his strong name. Amen.