Room in the Inn
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
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.1
Jesus, the man I try to follow and Savior I revere, was born in a manger, where livestock fed, because, despite his mother’s advanced pregnancy, his parents could not elicit enough sympathy to gain entrance into an establishment meant for humans. The scriptures describe this lowly incarnation of deity as the condescension of God. During this time of year, I think about the nativity story, and as a father of young children, my mind is drawn to Joseph.
I imagine the frustration he felt as he must have pled on behalf of his wife, who may have been suffering in early labor on the back of the donkey. I picture the desperation in his eyes as he sought any place at all to provide shelter. I hope that there were women, unmentioned in the scriptures, on hand to help Mary through the ordeal. I have been in the room on two occasions as my wife gave birth without painkillers, not because she planned to, but because we were late in arriving to the hospital. I can easily imagine Joseph’s stomach turning, unable to help.
I have seen desperation and quiet stoicism like I picture in my mind when I think of Joseph a few times in my life. I’ve heard it in the voice of a Peruvian woman over the phone in the aftermath of an earthquake that destroyed her city as she described her struggles in supporting at least three generations of her family who relied on her. I saw it in the faces of undocumented immigrants whose family members were arrested and faced deportation. I have seen it on the faces of young men who fled Afghanistan because their lives were threatened, some of whom who were now being turned away by western nations whose militaries they had served in their homeland.
I see these faces in my mind as I hear more evidence of callousness and cruelty in our nation’s leaders. Far from being savages from “huts”, or unworthy to enter because they must “all have AIDS”, those seeking shelter from the storms of this world are like you, like me, like Joseph. Jesus, born in a manger among the livestock, fled his homeland as a young child because his life was threatened, lived in Egypt as a refugee, and, after returning, performed his ministry with “not where to lay his head”2.
Jesus taught among the rejected classes in society, tearing down the hypocrisy of those in places of authority and privilege. He wept with those who mourned, leaving us an example that countless people have attempted to follow for two thousand years. In one of his most well known parables, Jesus describes a man, attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and Levite pass by, but a Samaritan stopped (Samaritans were cultural rivals and antagonists to the Israelites of Jesus’ day), dressed the victim’s wounds, placed him on his animal, and took him to help. Reflecting on the circumstances of Christ’s own birth, I do not think it is a coincidence that the Samaritan takes the wounded man to an innkeeper. He paid him, and asked him to care for the man until the Samaritan returned, at which time he would pay him for any further costs the abused man incurred.3
The Samaritan took the wounded man to an innkeeper. When we put ourselves into this story, we often put ourselves into the position of the Samaritan. Surely we would help the downtrodden and abused? I think it is just as fruitful to put ourselves in the role of the innkeeper. Jesus asks his followers to take in those who are desperately searching for aid, those who are knocking on the door and pleading. He asks us to be the innkeeper and He will recompense. If you are tempted by cruel sophistry to reject those knocking and pleading now, please remember, there is always room in the inn.