Saturday, December 24, 2016

bubble bursting

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:7

He is a stock character in just about every Christmas pageant.  He is the fall guy in many a Christmas Eve sermon.  He has become the symbol of the indifferent world into which Jesus was born.  Of course, I am speaking of the innkeeper.  The stocky, bearded, robed figure who has the effrontery to slam the door in the face of the holy family and let them freeze! 

Of course, he is actually a mythical character.  In that 'Christmas flu' that strikes us every year at this time, our version of what actually happened is based not so much in what the story tells us, as how the story has been interpreted in song, sermons, pageants, children's moments, movies, and books.
Because in reality, there is no record of any sort of inn/traveler's lodging place in Bethlehem back then.  No inn, no innkeeper.  Sorry to burst your well-known story bubble.

The real story has been lost in translation.  The Greek in which the gospel of Luke tells us that there was no space available in the 'guest room' not the inn.  (Luke uses this same word in describing the place where the Last Supper is held, and a completely different word to speak of the inn in the story of the Good Samaritan).  Back in those days, houses usually had a guest room in the front.  Apparently, Joseph was convinced a cousin, a friend, an associate would have space for them when they arrived.  But with the influx of people into Bethlehem for the census, not a chance.  But, each house also had a 'cave' attached to it - the place where the animals were secured at night.  And what with the view the accompanying blood and fluids of childbirth were 'unclean,' it might seem logical to folks for Mary to be placed in an area that was already messy.

So, no dastardly innkeeper.  No coldhearted rejection of the Christ Child.  No effrontery to God.  Just simple human attempts to make the best of a difficult situation. 

After all, what would you do if family shows up out of the blue on Christmas Eve, and every spare bed, every sofa, every rug is already being used by folks who had let you know they were coming?
You would do your best to accommodate them, wouldn't you?

Maybe that is what this verse is really all about.  Whether or not, we will do what it takes to accommodate the other into our lives; we will do our best to make sure those around us are fed and clothed and sheltered and loved; we will seek to keep our hearts, our minds, our imagination open to the One who comes to us when we least expect, when we are least prepared, when we are most frazzled and frayed.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman

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