As we neared the airport, I could see our plane on the approach to the runway. I watched in unbelief as it proceeded to take off. I went into the terminal and discovered that the plane was full and my seat had been given to a standby passenger. I had arrived at the counter 15 minutes before the scheduled departure and was told the airline was within its rights to give my seat away.
If I wanted to be at my destination for my late morning speaking engagement the next day, I would have to drive to Nanaimo, catch the ferry to Vancouver and then depart on an early morning flight from Vancouver. They changed my ticket and I was set for plan “B.”
I arrived in downtown Vancouver at about 10 pm and proceeded to look for a hotel. The first one I checked out was sold out. The clerk informed me it was the first weekend of the PNE and all the downtown hotels were sold out. However, I was told, there might be a room left at one of the downtown “luxury” hotels. They phoned the hotel and sure enough, they had one room available. They were willing to hold it until I arrived.
Much to my shock, the price of the room was three times what I would normally pay. I explained my situation and they were gracious enough to give me the room for half price. My plane left at 7 the next morning so I had very little time to enjoy the luxury of a beautiful room.
I remember the lonely feeling of being in a city surrounded by “No Vacancy!” It took me back to the journey of a newly married couple and their experience in a city where there was “No Vacancy!”
Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of Jesus Christ, made the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Under command from Caesar they were required to return to their ancestral home and register for taxation purposes, an event that history documents. The journey was complicated by Mary’s pregnancy. She was due to deliver at any time. Imagine their dismay as they heard the words of the inn keeper, “Sorry, no vacancy.” He added, “I do have a stable and you would be welcome to sleep there.”
A friend of ours established a home for orphans in Burundi. She has made this statement concerning her work: “If I have room in my heart for another child, there is always room in the home.”
The inn keeper forgot there was one room available and that was his. Of course, he couldn’t give away the rooms that he had rented to other guests, but he could have given up his room. That was the one room over which he had total control.
But! That would have cost him something. Making room for a pregnant woman and her husband would have called for personal sacrifice. Their need and his room just did not connect in his mind.
Unfortunately, like the inn keeper, we can also post a “no vacancy” sign over our lives. We can’t be bothered making room for those in need. We don’t mind sending people to the barn, just don’t ask us to get involved with their lives. Keep people and their need at arm’s length and let them forage for themselves in the barn.
Sociologist Robert Bellah, in his book, Habits Of The Heart, points out that ours is a culture of self-containment. People are not willing to make a commitment to anything that is outside their circle of interest. They are absorbed with events that give them a good feeling and luxuriate in things that add status to their lives. They exist as the center of their universe and all activities must revolve around them. “But,” you say, “many people give to charities, both with their time and resource, doesn’t that count for something?” Remember, you can give time and money and still remain disengaged from those who receive the benefit. Opening your heart to people in need taps into your emotional reservoir of love, compassion and care. When you give from that supply, time and money can release a flow of life that brings change in the life of the recipient.
Christmas is more than a nice tradition. It is an invitation to extend the life of the One who brings light to darkness; healing to brokenness; hope to shattered dreams; rest to weary souls; comfort to grieving hearts; order to tangled messes and restoration to troubled minds. For that to take place, the “no vacancy” sign must be taken down. Remember, if there is room in the heart there will be room in the house.