I have gotten a bad rap. I’m not even in Luke’s version of the nativity story and yet, in Christmas pageant after Christmas pageant for the last 2000 years, I’m made out to be the bad guy. I mean, I’m no Herod, but still…I don’t come off looking good.
Somehow, I became the guy who turned poor Joseph and great-with-child Mary away from the inn so that her baby had to be born in a barn. But that’s not exactly how it happened.
Just take a closer look at the story. You know, in your Bible. Luke, chapter two. It’s not like Mary showed up at my door in labor, and I sent them out into the cold. Notice Luke tells you that “while they were there” the time came for Mary to give birth. They had been in my house for several days before the baby came. And yes, I said house. More like a guest house than a hotel or inn. Bethlehem is not exactly at the crossroads of anything. It’s not even on one of the major Roman highways. We don’t get a lot of folks in from out of town, just enough wandering shepherds and traveling merchants for my wife and I to make a living with our little guest house…what you might call a B and B today.
But at that time, there were all sorts of people were traveling all sorts of places because Augustus made that decree that put the census into motion. So we really were overbooked and stretched to the limit when Mary and Joseph arrived. There weren’t any legit rooms, but there was no way we were turning away couple who was about to have a baby! What kind of man do you think I am?
My wife cleaned out an area we used as a closet so that they could sleep there. There was just enough room from Mary and Joseph to lay down and stretch out all the way. It was a tight squeeze, but it was better than nothing. I was afraid if Mary got any bigger, we wouldn’t be able to get her through the doorway!
So when the time did come for her have the baby, there literally was no room in their room…which is what Luke wrote. No room in the kataluma…which is Greek for guest room. It was no place to have a baby, and there certainly wasn’t any place to put the baby when it arrived, so we took Mary to where we keep our livestock…which is pretty much part of our house. You may not live with your cows and sheep and goats these days, but we did…at least at night. We always brought them in so that they wouldn’t get lost or attacked or stolen. It was some of the animals we sent outside (taking a great risk, I might add) so that there was plenty of room for Mary and my wife and a couple of other women who showed up to help to deliver the baby.
And yes, when he finally arrived, Jesus was wrapped in cloths and laid in a feeding trough or a manger, but the wrapping was brand new fabric that my wife had only recently purchased, and the manger was stuffed with clean hay that I put there myself. I admit, it wasn’t ideal, but it was much better than people have made it out to be. It was years later before I realized who that baby really was, but I have to admit, that night felt special…which was weird, because I’ve never been really into babies.
There are three things I learned from that night that I hope you’ll remember to:
• Doing the right thing doesn’t mean that history will remember you as a hero.
• If you are committed to hospitality, there is always room for one more
• Extending kindness to strangers can lead to great things
That’s the real story…or at least the way I remember it. May you have a welcoming Christmas and a hospitable new year.
–Rev. Anne Russ