Susan Sparks: Sun Mo manger
“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, North Dakota. My husband Toby and I had just finished a four-hundred-mile motorcycle ride from Wisconsin.
“Please ... really ... we’ll take anything,” I said, starting to worry.
“There is NO room here,” he replied with an impatient tone. “The best you can do is ride up to Fort Mandan and try the Sunset Motel.”
“But that’s thirty miles!” I sighed.
“Yup,” he said, “and you’d best hurry. They’re gunna fill up, too.”
Cold and exhausted, we fired up our Harley Road King and headed up the interstate to Mandan. As we crested the last hill before our exit, we saw the motel’s flashing sign in the distance. It was an antiquated neon marker with some of the letters missing, so it read simply “Sun Mo.”
The woman behind the counter, gray hair to her waist, barked, “Can I help ya?”
“Y’all have any rooms?” I asked, praying fervently. “Last one,” she said with pride, producing an old-timey key with a plastic teardrop-shaped medallion attached.
When we opened the door to the room, I immediately flashed to Luke’s Christmas story because this — this was definitely a manger. I’m pretty sure the last guests to stay in that motel room were livestock. It was a tiny space with worn carpet, 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 were out of the cold and in a place we could lay our heads. That was comfort enough.
It’s a bad feeling to be left out in the cold—to be told there is no room at the inn, to be excluded, left out, or pushed aside. We’ve all been there.
Maybe it was early in life when someone didn’t pick us for their sports team or failed to invite us to sit at their table during school lunch. Or maybe it was later when we were pushed aside for a job we wanted. Or perhaps, it was even later in life, when we felt left out or ignored because of age or illness.
The refrain “no room at the inn” is all too commonplace. For almost four million American children, for example, there is no room at the “inn” of health care; for more than 500,000 Americans, the only room available is a homeless shelter; and for 925 million people globally, there is no room at the “inn” of food and sustenance.
Like Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, many of us have been turned away. But their story didn’t end there, and neither does ours. In fact, the ending is just the opposite. Through the power of love and mercy, Jesus became the one with the keys to the inn -- the one who flung open the doors for all to find shelter.
We are the beneficiaries of Christ’s transformation. While we may be rejected by the world, we will never be rejected by its maker. Through that same love and mercy, we will always be welcomed and beloved as children of the most high.
“Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.
And when we accept that gift, something amazing happens. Not to mix baby Jesus and Dr. Seuss, but the story of “The Grinch” explains it best: “They say – that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of 10 Grinches, plus two!”
Through the love and acceptance we receive, we are able to transform into the ones with the keys to the inn—the ones who share that love with their brothers and sisters, flinging open the doors for all to find shelter and rest.
That’s our gift. And that’s our call.
For all those who feel left out this holiday season, for all those who have been excluded or rejected, for all whose hearts and spirits are broken, there is good news this Christmas eve. For unto you is born this day the transformative gift of unconditional love—a savior, Christ the Lord.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace. Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.