Christmas Eve Luke 2:1-14
THERE'S SO MUCH IN THOSE FEW WORDS we hear year after year: "laid him in a manger;" "no room in the inn." But there's a problem. It's the word always translated in English as "inn." It makes us think of a Bethlehem Best Western. Or a few rooms above a tavern. Some place with shelter and beds.
The word in the original just means "guest room." Literally, it's "upper room." It could mean a place in the home of someone rich enough to have a house with a spare room up on the flat roof. It could also mean a big, open space, walled and roofed in on top of homes, market stalls, workshops, or stables. An eating place by day. At night a place for weary travellers to sleep on the floor with their possessions within easy reach.
More hostel than Holiday Inn. A person might be better off outside.
What about a couple about to have a baby? I think it's most likely Jesus is born in a very public place. Maybe where there's water, and some straw for animals.
Maybe they have some shelter. The family takes refuge in an alleyway. Or maybe just against the wall in the yard. Imagine Mary is stretched out on the ground, exhausted. Joseph sits up, but slumped over. They find a little box for their firstborn's first bed. A feed box, maybe. Not much bigger than a scoop for grain.
No farm animals looking on. No innkeeper. Not an angel in sight. They're alone, at least in that moment. Safe? Maybe for that moment. We want to believe they're safe. That's why we need them to be in a warm, unnaturally clean stable.
Nobody in this story is safe. Not the people uprooted at the whim of a faraway emperor. Not the crowds filling every corner in Bethlehem, waiting for the next decree to tell them where to go. Not the shepherds, out in the field, risking their lives for someone else's sheep.
In a religious and political tinderbox announcing the birth of...