Scripture Reading: She gave birth to her first Son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
Meditation: It was my first night as a volunteer at the new Salvation Army shelter, opened to address the growing needs of homeless men in downtown Phoenix. I had never worked with homeless people before, so I sat nervously at the registration table asking each man a few questions as he signed in. As I got more and more into the flow of the job, I became more mechanical in my duties, soon failing to look up before asking the next man in line his name. As I crouched over my clipboard, I called out for the name of the next person in line. A voice quietly said, “My name is Joseph.” Continuing to stare at my clipboard, I asked, “And your occupation?” Joseph quietly answered, “I am a carpenter,” and then he disappeared into the crowd heading through the shelter door.
At that moment, just a few days before Christmas, I was jolted out of the complacency of my “official” role. I realized I could not ignore these men. I could not fail to give them the simple dignity of looking them in the eye. If Joseph were there, could Jesus be there also? And what if I missed the opportunity to grasp God’s outstretched hand and His invitation to journey with Him in service to the world?
The Bible does not tell us why the innkeeper felt compelled to find a place for Joseph and Mary to sleep that night. Perhaps it was the fact that it was clear that Mary was close to giving birth that moved him to compassion, but why had none of the other innkeepers felt so moved? Maybe it was because the innkeeper had access to the cave where Jesus was born and no one else did, or perhaps it was simply a chance to make a little more money from the travelers visiting Bethlehem to pay their taxes. Or, just maybe, it was because by looking into the eyes of Mary and Joseph the innkeeper caught a glimpse of God’s love and chose to be a part of His plan for revealing that love to mankind.
We will have to wait until we get to heaven to get the answer to that question, but what we do know is that the birthplace of Jesus is an important part of the revelation of God’s story. Through His humble birth, Jesus was connected to the world of the broken, and through that was able to teach us about compassion and grace and hope. As Thomas Merton reminds us:
Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for Him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because He cannot be at home in it, because He is out of place in it, His place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of person, who are tortured, bombed, and exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in the world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst… It is in these that He hides Himself, for whom there is no room.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for the innkeeper who chose to be a part of God’s plan for the world. Help us to be aware of those around us who need to find room in the inn – be it a place of physical rest or spiritual hope. Amen.
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