No room at the inn – a Christmas reflection (2)

No room at the inn – a reflection

Christmas 2011

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who is longing for us to give him a place in our hearts. Amen.

One of my most vivid childhood memories was our trip to Scotland when I was ten years old. It was, I think ,the summer holidays and we had driven up from London – my father, my mother, my younger sister and brother and myself. All was going well until we got to the motel where we were to spend the first night. To our surprise and consternation (not to mention my ten year old distress), they weren’t expecting us. What was worse was that they had no rooms that they could give us. Worse still was the fact that due to the school holidays there was not a room to be had in the whole town.

It was the same everywhere we went. We would confidently arrive at our planned accommodation only to find that they were not only not expecting us but that they and the whole city was fully booked!

You may have guessed by the fact that it happened more than once that we continued our holiday. We were truly blessed.  At each and every place room was found for us, sometimes even in the home of the motel manager. Stretchers were pulled out and linen provided and so we were protected from the cold and wet and didn’t have to drive all the way home and miss our holiday.

It is only recently that I have drawn on this experience to try to really imagine what it was like for Mary and Joseph.

In the first century there were inns for travelers, but most would have been on trade routes. Few people could write or even afford letters, so there would have been no way of booking ahead or even of warning your friends that you were on your way. However, in the first century Mediterranean culture there were strict rules of hospitality. A person could travel the countryside and be reasonably confident of finding a welcome somewhere.

However, this was no ordinary journey. It was undertaken for the specific purpose of the census. This made it worse than the summer school holidays in Scotland everyone was on the move and every bed, every space was taken.

How distressing it must have been to have been turned away time after time, from every place where they sought shelter. How anxious must Mary have been to find somewhere to rest, somewhere safe and warm to bring her child into the world! How relieved they must all have been to have found somewhere at last – even if it was the place in which the animals were stalled, it was dry and warm.

It’s an extraordinary story. One would have thought that God could have been better prepared  – chosen to be born at a less busy time, ensured that Mary and Joseph had arrived before the crowds, or even burst into the world without the inconvenience of birth and childhood.

God doesn’t choose this way, because the last thing that God wants to do is to impose himself on humankind. God chooses to enter our lives not as a separate and inaccessible being, but by becoming one of us – from birth to death.

Even now, God refuses to impose himself or force his will on the world. God continues gently and persistently to ask us to make room – to open our hearts so that God can come in and to open our lives so that God’s presence can be known through us. Without us, God cannot enter the world. Without our cooperation, God cannot be brought to birth.

Just as Mary and Joseph were totally reliant on the kindness of strangers to provide a space in which God could be brought to birth, so God continues to rely on us to open the door to our hearts and make a space for God in our lives.

It’s a long time since Jesus was born, but God is still knocking on the doors of our hearts asking if there is room.  Are we going to leave Jesus outside in the cold and dark with no place to be born, or are we going to open our hearts and let him come in and transform our lives by being born in and through us?

 

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