I shared a story last year in a Christmas message that a few people have asked about, and I thought this would be an appropriate place to share it again. It came from Jess Moody, who was a noted Baptist preacher back in the 1960’s through the 1980’s. He preached a “revival” at Southwestern Seminary when I was a student there, and he was one of the most powerful story-tellers I ever heard.
In one of his books, Moody told of meeting Rose Kennedy, the mother of the president and the matriarch of the Kennedy clan. He was teaching a Bible study that she attended, and that night he challenged those in attendance to make their hearts ready to meet the Lord because life is short for all of us, and no one knows what the future may hold.
When the meeting was over, Mrs. Kennedy spoke to Moody privately. “I’ve done what you were talking about tonight,” she said. She went on to say that as a young bride, she had been enamored by the power of money and her life was characterized by selfishness and covetousness.
Then she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. However, it soon became apparent that something was wrong with her daughter. Medical tests revealed that her daughter had been born with severe mental retardation, which devastated Mrs. Kennedy and her husband Joe, and the decision was made to institutionalize her. Then the devastation turned eventually to enormous anger at God. “How could you have done this to us?” she asked the Lord. The anger became a kind of corrosive bitterness that drained every bit of joy from her life.
One night during the Christmas season she and her husband had been scheduled to attend a social gathering. They decided at the last minute not to go when she realized that her anger had consumed her. She was afraid of what she might do or say if someone asked about their daughter’s condition. And that’s when it happened. A maid who worked for the family spoke to her. “Mrs. Kennedy, I’ve been watching you for the last few weeks and I’ve seen how angry you are. If you don’t do something, it’s going to ruin you. I think you should pray this prayer: ‘O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.'”
Rose Kennedy told Jess Moody that she was so angry that she fired the maid on the spot. But that night when she went to bed, she couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, she couldn’t get that simple prayer out of her mind. Finally, she knelt by her bed, and in an act of deep surrender, she prayed, “O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.” And in that moment, in the depth of the night, when she cried out in anguish, God heard and answered her prayer.
“I’ve always been religious,” she told Jess Moody. “I’m a Catholic and I’ve always believed in Jesus.” But this was different. On this night, she opened her heart to Christ in a new way, and her heart did indeed become a manger where Christ could be born (again) in her. Love replaced the anger that had gripped her soul. And the end of the story is this: She rehired the maid who stayed with the family until she died many years later.
That’s a prayer that many need to pray this Christmas season. Perhaps you have been religious and have given mental assent to a belief in Jesus. Maybe you’ve sung the Christmas songs, proclaiming “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” But He has not come into our own hearts, and He is not Lord of your life. And it’s possible that in these days leading up to Christmas, anger, worry, fear, doubt, and other inner distractions are draining all the joy from your heart.
I hope you won’t put a “No Room In the Inn” sign up for Jesus this Christmas. I pray you will accept the invitation He extends to each of us, and open your heart to His love and grace. Let go of your doubts and fears. Give up your anger. Say farewell to your bitterness. Let go of the things that chain you to the past. And pray this simple prayer: “O Lord, make my heart a manger where the Christ child can be born.”
Merry Christmas to each of you. I count it such a joy to be your pastor, and look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we worship our Savior together.