The story is told of a struggling community who called an open town meeting to discuss their financial straits. Included in the group of a couple dozen people at the meeting was a stranger. No one knew him, and no one paid him any attention. In fact, once when he tried to speak up, he was interrupted as the townspeople continued to hash out possible solutions. Soon the stranger left.

A few minutes after he left, a late-arriving town resident ran breathlessly into the meeting. “What was he doing here?” he asked excitedly. “Is he going to help us?”

“Who?” the others looked at the man with surprise. “You mean that stranger? Who was he anyway?”

“You mean you really don’t know?” The latecomer’s body sagged with disappointment. “That was John D. Rockefeller. His yacht is in our harbor. Didn’t you get his help?”

This town missed its golden opportunity because they didn’t know who Rockefeller was.

Does this story sound familiar?

I wonder if the innkeeper of Bethlehem ever realized who he had turned away. Mary and Joseph surely didn’t come to him saying, “We’re going to have a baby, and you need to know that this child is the Son of God. If you don’t make room for us here, you will regret it for the rest of your life.” No, they just made their need known and left when the innkeeper had no room.

Although we will never stand in the innkeeper’s position, with the opportunity to provide a birthing room for Christ, we are daily surrounded with countless opportunities to give to Christ.

Usually, however, we’re slow to recognize them for what they are.

But Matthew 25:34–40 records that the Lord Himself pays careful attention to these opportunities, and when He returns as King, He will reward those who recognize them:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Christ has so identified Himself with the needy—especially needy Christians—that He says we are caring for Him when we reach out to them. If we have no room in our lives to serve others in the name of Christ, we choose to miss the greatest opportunities of life.

James 1:27 emphasizes this point: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

In our church, we’ve emphasized ministries through which we can give the compassionate love of Christ to others: missions (giving financially so those around the world who have never heard of Christ may know Him), visiting our own widows and caring for their needs, ministering in rest homes around town, and many other ministries.

Through the years, our bus ministry has consistently reached out and given to others. Every week, members of our church give of their time to visit children in our community—many of which are from  underprivileged neighborhoods and broken homes—and bring these children to church on a bus.

A few months ago, our ministry received an email about one of our former bus riders that reminded me afresh of the importance of making room in our lives for loving others in Jesus’ name.

I am an English instructor at Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles. This past week, I assigned the writing of a speech celebrating Valentine’s Day. One student, named Kevin, wrote a remarkable essay about your church.

Kevin spoke of a “bus captain” named Brother Andrew….I have paraphrased the speech below. It stirred my heart, as a Christian, and caused several students to speak with Kevin about his faith.

Today I want to speak to everyone on what I think is true love. Love is not a movie or a feeling or an emotion. Love is God. I used to live in Palmdale with my family. There was a church there called Lancaster Baptist. The church sent buses out to pick up people in our apartment complex and take us to their church.

Brother Andrew was my bus captain. Andrew was my friend; he showed me for the first time what it felt like to be really loved. My parents left my family when I was eleven, so we lived with my uncle there in Palmdale. Andrew told me that I still needed to love and talk to God about my parents, even though they had hurt me.

Andrew always told me that he loved me, but he could never love me anywhere close to as much as God did. God loved me so much that he came to earth as a human named Jesus. Jesus died for all of us. How many of your boyfriends or girlfriends would really do that for you? Is that really love? No, it is not. Love is what I saw on that bus….

Andrew would come to our apartment two or three times a week just to talk or hang out. He would come and talk to my uncle about Jesus and they would talk for hours about how to stop drinking and messing around with girls. Andrew would come get us after school, and we would go to the park or grab some food.

Andrew had no responsibility or reason to do any of this. He told me of a church that loved me. They would give of their money to run the buses. That is true love. Why would they love us kids like that? Because they wanted to tell us of a much bigger love, the love of God….

There are other “Kevins” in the world. Many of them probably cross your path on a regular basis. Of course, they don’t come to you and say, “Hi, I’m Kevin, and I really need love. If you will help me, you will be helping Jesus.” And so, like the innkeeper of Bethlehem, we usually don’t recognize those who need help for who they are.

But when we give of ourselves to share the love of Christ with others, we not only minister to their needs, but we also experience the joy of Christmas.

Don’t fall into the Christmas trap of “too busy.” Those two words are just a rephrasing of the innkeeper’s line, “no room.” Christ didn’t come to Bethlehem because He needed it. He came for us. And when you worship Christ this Christmas and give to others in His name, it will be you who benefits most.

Make room in your life to serve others. It is the opportunity of a lifetime.

[This post was adapted from the book Christmas Is a Gift. You can find more information about the book or order your print or kindle copy. Thanks for reading.]

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