Advent, Day 22: Room

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Tonight, my brother-in-law, whom I love and at whom I laugh, asked if we wanted him to bring us anything from Target…which is a really nice thought, except that he doesn’t live in our city.  He lives almost three hours from here.  But he was at our Target.  That’s how we found out he was coming with his daughters to stay at our house tonight.  My wife Kim started laughing.  After she explained, she said, “Classic Jeff.”  

And it is.  Another “Classic Jeff” is to offer hospitality and provide rides to the airport at ungodly hours (okay, God’s awake, but no one else should be).  He is an immensely servant-hearted single dad who would shrug this off with a little smile, but he has a kinder heart than I ever will.  

His visit made me think of room.  We have room.  We now have a roomy house and though we already have a houseguest and our 19-year-old visiting from Nicaragua at the moment, we’ll make room for them.  Of course we will.  It’s funny that he didn’t give us more heads up time, but we don’t care, really, because we need neither a perfectly clean house nor three weeks’ notice to receive visitors.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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 place for them in the inn.

That’s all we have on Mary’s delivery room accommodations.  “There was no place from for them in the inn.”  Does that mean the inn was full?  Or was the inn too expensive for them to afford?  Or, possibly, the inn simply would not allow a woman huge with child, gasping as her first contractions hit, to have a room.  Mary and Joseph could not stay at the inn.  

Is that hard to believe?  This poor woman is about to have a baby and the innkeeper looks at her and says, “No.  I won’t let you make that mess and all that goes with it in one of my beds.”  Could be.  I think it’s safe to assume he doesn’t know Mary.  He has no obligations of kinship to fulfill here.  

Is there a moral obligation to help a pregnant woman about to give birth?  Are you more or less obligated if she’s poor?  What about if she can’t afford to stay at your inn but she needs a place to deliver her baby?

The story that has grown up around these verses is that the innkeeper refuses them but tells them they can stay in the barn.  

That isn’t business as usual for a birth.  When the angel got done scaring the shepherds he/she/it told them how they could find the Messiah.  

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

A child in a manger suffices as a sign.  You won’t see it every day, even with people suffering poverty.  I’m guessing the angel must have given them a bit more direction than that; in any case, the shepherds do find the baby.  

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

We don’t know exactly where Jesus was born.  We assume it was some manner of barn because that’s where you’d find a manger.  Another word for “manger” is trough.  The just-born Jesus was laid in a trough.  Those were the accommodations available to the teenage mother giving birth to her first child.  

I’ve been present for the birth of each of my children.  Not everything worked out conveniently for those births, and in one case we suffered shattering tragedy, though well after Kim gave birth.  It’s a stretch for me to imagine that we might have had to make do with a space outside our planned-on facilities, though I have friends whose babies arrived in the car on the way to the hospital.  But living in Nicaragua, I know women who have given birth in conditions at which you would shudder.  I keep wondering if any of the young women in the “caravan”–the refugees fleeing Honduras and Guatemala, seeking asylum somewhere that their lives aren’t immediately threatened–are expecting.  

I don’t think such a young girl, pregnant and homeless, trying to find a safe place for her soon-to-be-born baby, will be welcomed in the inn.  She can’t pay, and taking her in would lead to enormous complications. 

Is there a moral obligation to help a pregnant woman about to give birth?  Are you more or less obligated if she’s poor?  What about if she can’t afford to stay at your inn but she needs a place to deliver her baby?

If you think, “But that’s not a fair comparison,” then you’re still not understanding what I’m saying about Joseph and Mary.  

I’ve always read Luke 2:7 with the accent on “in the inn.” Like this:

“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 place for them in the inn.”

But perhaps Luke means this:

“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 place for them in the inn.”

They. Were not. Welcome. 

There was no room for them.

 

If you’ve read my blog much, you know I often refer to Matthew 25.  Listen to how this reads:

 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was a baby of a poor mother with no place to give birth, and you found room for me.”  

Jesus isn’t just being “spiritual,” metaphorical, or metaphysical.  He was a stranger.  Matthew 2:13-15.  Literally, Jesus was a refugee at the border. And he was a baby of a mother to whom no room was offered.  

“But you welcomed me,” Jesus says.  

You made room.  

 

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