Have you ever being denied access into a place at a most needful time? Put in another way, have you ever received a discouraging NO! For an answer when you were passionately searching for a modest YES? If you have not then pay attention to the story that follows.
Back in the day during my training to become a priest, I would often visit one of my elder sisters in Abuja city Nigeria to spend my long vacations. On one occasion, I was coming back after the long vacation on a luxurious bus (coach) when we had a breakdown on the way and it took hours to fix it. By the time we were getting to Onitsha city Nigeria, it was already dark and not just that, we noticed that there was a curfew on account of a prevailing unrest in the city. There was then the restriction of movement from 7.00 pm to 6.am. The town was unlike how it used to be and security operatives were moving around arresting defaulters. In fact there was total anarchy.
The driver of the bus instantly asked us to alight and pick our bags and find places to stay for the night. The stampede was much as people scampered for their bags. I was lucky to have secured my bag but the challenge was where to spend the night as I was still one hour away from home. Back then, there were no mobile phones and communication was still very analogue and manual. The last option was to secure accommodation in any of the nearby hotels.
It was very disheartening that all the hotels I saw were fully booked as the people at the front desk would casually and pitilessly announce that they had no accommodation. At the last place I went, the person at the front desk looked at me very well and told me that I may not be able to pay for the remaining room they had as it was the top rated one. When I asked how much she ignored me. At that point I just needed somewhere to stay for the night and not for a comfortable sleep. There were obviously many passengers who were having the same challenge like me and it was dangerous to stay outside as night marauders were many in the town as people rumoured.
After a fruitless search around and after numerous replies of “we are fully booked” I walked into a restaurant that was in a barely completed building. I had no appetite to eat but I had to request for something to justify my presence there. After some time I discovered all the people there were stranded and displaced passengers like me. We eventually bonded and it became like a family of refugees. When it was time for the restaurant to close the owner was gracious enough to allow us to stay in there but said that she would lock us in there till morning for the safety of her wares; we had no other option than to accept the offer. That was how we were accommodated till morning.
There are indeed many interesting and instructive events surrounding the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ however, our reflection today is focused on the report of Luke (2:7).The passage says: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn”. (KJV). Our attention is focused on the later part which says: “because there was no room for them in the inn”. The simple fact here is that the Saviour had no place among the people he came to free from their slavery to sin; nobody was kind and charitable enough to give him a space except a shepherd who made provision within the animal’s facility. This situation could have been a very dismantling one for Mary and Joseph. Like in my story, they moved from one house to another, from one inn to another, from one location to another but the reply was all still the same: “We are fully booked!” This continued until they got the animal’s accommodation which is today painted in the most beautiful and enticing way when in actual sense it was not a pleasant place at all; but the saviour had to be born in there. In life, where you were born does not matter but what for what you were born is the most honourable point to consider.
Sometimes I imagine what could have been going on in the minds of Mary and Joseph. “Why would God allow them to pass through such a harrowing experience when they were at the same time carrying out what He had established?” Often working for God and with Him comes with great trials but they are not meant to break us; rather they are set to strengthen us.
There are two ways of understanding the phrase “fully booked”. The first refers to the fact of not having a space left hence access is totally denied. The other way is applicable to mostly bookstores or libraries that are stocked with every kind of book from all disciplines to the extent that nothing is left out. The library of Congress in USA can be said to be fully booked. From the above explanation we can identify being fully booked from the negative angle and from the positive angle and this will characterise our reflection in what follows.
The way and manner Christmas is being celebrated in our day and age points to the fact that we are often fully booked from the negative points of view. We make room for new clothes, shoes, cars, decorations and many other things that bear the sight and sound of xmas not Christmas (there is a difference between the two; the first is without Christ but the second bears Christ) but not the Saviour who is to be born in us. Like the people at the from desk at the inns we pitilessly announce to our Lord that we are fully booked forgetting that he is not coming for his own good and comfort but for our own life and our salvation. Very much the proverbial biting of the finger that is feeding us.
We become fully booked in the negative way when we think only about ourselves and what would come to us this season. We become fully booked negatively at this time when we create space only for material gains. We become fully booked negatively at this time when it is all about our comfort and the discomfort of other people. We become fully booked negatively when we fail to activate charity. Today many people will have more than enough to eat and to throw away while a great number of people will not have access to a modest meal. We become fully booked when we are so much concerned about the body and not the spirit. We are fully booked negatively this season when we remember to do all other things apart from preparing a room for him as Isacc Watts would suggest in his epochal song “Joy to the World”.
There is a recommendation today for us to be fully booked in the positive and helpful way. This means being fully at the service of the divine and leaving no space for any other preoccupation. It means being packed with all the needed virtues of Christmas which includes love, peace, joy, kindness, forgiving heart and a giving hand. From the Christmas narrative we can identify those who were positively booked for God like Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and the wise men from the east. On the other hand we can identify those who were fully booked negatively like Herod and his household.
As you step out for the celebration of Christmas today, there is need for you to identify if you are fully booked and on which side of the divide; that is positively or negatively. There is no doubt that so many people in our world today are negatively booked and this can be seen in so many manifest ways. Many celebrate Christmas without Christ, while others simply celebrate themselves. The truth we need to identify with this season is that if we do not make a room for him he will not be born in us. And if he is not born in us we stand to lose the blessings of Christmas which is set to help us to get into the New Year.
Merry Christmas and have a great celebration as you get yourself fully booked for the Lord.