FARGO -- Joseph and Mary, who was with child, traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in a mandatory census. While they were in Bethlehem the time came for the miracle baby to be born and Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no katalyma available for them.”

Because of this census, Bethlehem was full of additional people. Typically, when traveling in this day, family members would stay with family. The New Testament Greek word “katalyma” can be translated inn, guest room, hostel or even a shelter. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention an innkeeper and we don’t know exactly what this room was. But we do know several items, based on the description in the Gospel of Luke.

There was a preferred place for Mary to give birth, but someone made the decision that place was not available.

A manger was a feeding trough for animals. Mary was a very flexible mom, making do the best she could with what she had. Because Jesus was placed in a feeding trough we often picture Jesus being born in a stable or a barn, but we don’t know that. We just know Mary was in a place where animals had access to eat and it was not normal to use a feeding trough for animals to place your baby in.

Mary seems to not have the people around that would typically be with someone giving birth. We don’t have a record of a midwife or a female family member familiar with delivery there to help her. In Nativity scenes the birth of Christ is presented as very peaceful, but I don’t see it that way. What brought us peace and hope here on earth was chaotic, lonely and difficult for Joseph and Mary.

There was someone, not with evil intentions or hostility, perhaps even sympathetic to the situation, perhaps one of Joseph’s family members, who said to Mary that the room more appropriate for giving birth was not available. We can call this person an “innkeeper,” and I believe the innkeeper was “distracted.”

Unfortunately, when we are distracted we display a lack of empathy, can be easily irritated and are prone to anger. Ultimately, when we are distracted we overlook what matters most … our relationship with God and people.

Is it possible that we can get ready with all of the decor, decisions and details of Christmas and miss out on the joy-filled discovery of a closer relationship with God and others? Is it possible that we dangle those lights, deliver those gifts and deplete those cookies and we never delight in the presence of Christ and share his love with those in need?

The innkeeper’s heart was not prepared and he completely overlooked the opportunity right in front of him. So, what has the greatest potential to distract you this Christmas? What fear has the potential to hold you back from experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ and passing his love on to others? What do you need to tweak in your life to avoid distraction and to prepare your heart to pursue and celebrate Jesus Christ? What needs to change in your schedule? Your finances? Your habits? Your attitude?

God bless you. See you next Sunday!

Hauser is the founding and senior pastor at Prairie Heights Community Church in Fargo-Moorhead and can be reached at www.jonhauser.com