Christmas Comes Anyway
And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7
As we near the end of this Advent Season and turn our hearts and minds toward Christmas, I am mindful of the circumstances of Christ’s birth and the relevance of that birth today. I am mindful of Jesus being born on the wrong side of the tracks in Bethlehem of Judea, an area we now know as Palestine. I am mindful that the birth of Jesus was not met with the elaborate grandeur of our celebrations today, but rather, Jesus was born as the son of a young woman whose pregnancy was unplanned and whose birth was so ethnically profiled by the governing forces of his day that his parents were forced to seek political asylum.
I am mindful that the very birth of Jesus was an act of resistance for which there was no room.
I have always been intrigued by the lack of space made for God’s gift of Grace. Most of us have grown up hearing accounts that the “inn” in Bethlehem was full, with no “room” available. We perform Christmas plays and construct narratives depicting a pregnant Mary traveling with Joseph from inn to inn in search of a room.
Yet a closer look at the biblical text reveals quite a different story!
The Greek word translated “inn” in Luke 2 is kataluma, it literally means a guest room.
In fact, the writer uses this very word later in Luke 22:11, where Jesus said to His disciples, “Then you shall say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “ ‘Where is the guest room (kataluma) where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ ” The only other time this word is used in scripture is Mark 14:14, which also refers to the inquiry about the use of the guest room for Passover.
Linguistically, the text shows that the writer of Luke used the term kataluma to mean not an inn, but the guest room, literally “the” guest room of a particular house. What Luke is telling us is there was not enough space for God’s Grace.
Making space for Grace is a disruptive process. We struggle to make room in our houses for the unplanned, and often unwelcomed, inbreaking of Christ.
There is no room in our legislative houses to welcome those in need of refuge today.
There is no room in our houses of worship to welcome those whose beliefs may differ.
There is no room in our cities to offer shelter to the homeless.
There is no room in our hospitals to care for the mentally ill.
There is no room in our political policies to welcome the immigrant.
There is no room on our agenda to respect the environment.
There is no room in our hearts to comfort the poor, the vulnerable, or the profiled among us.
There is no room in our inn.
And yet, Christ comes anyway, challenging us, always, to make room.
And this is the HOPE of this season. This is the peace that Christ brings. That, as Jurgen Moltmann said, “Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”