The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
The world did not recognize him – Because he turned all our expectations upside down. This week, we are looking closely at the characters involved in Jesus’ birth in order to further understand that “the world did not recognize” Christ: in the Nativity Story, God turns every expectation upside down.
Read Luke 2:1-7
Once when I was teaching “The Birth of Jesus” to a young Sunday School class, I assigned the children different roles in the story and had them act it out. I was shocked to find that the most popular role was not Mary or Joseph, but the innkeeper; those kids just loved getting to frown and shout out “No Room!” in their meanest, most grown-up voices, turning poor Mary and Joseph out into the barn! Every single one of them demanded a chance to play that role in this otherwise not-super-exciting-to-them story.
Little did I know at the time that some scholars have discredited the idea that this is what Scripture means when it says “there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7, KJV). In fact, many have concluded that the original text here alludes to guest quarters, and that Mary and Joseph were likely housed with Joseph’s relatives or friends – but that the house was so full that they had to sleep on the lower level, where the family’s livestock would’ve normally been kept at night. The manger would’ve been built into the rock and thus served as an ideal substitute for a crib. (Another explanation for Mary’s delivery in that location might have something to do with it being more suitable for the ritual cleansing that would need to be completed after the birth.)
However, this particular change in the context of the Nativity story does nothing to change the heart of the message about Christ’s birth: it was still a lowly birth – and rather haphazard at that. Mary may have been surrounded by other women rather than donkeys and cattle, but she was still a peasant giving birth in a stranger’s humble home surrounded by others like herself. She was carrying the Messiah, but she was given no special treatment or place of honor; she was simply cared for as any woman in her situation might have been. One has to wonder – how much did those around her understand about this Child? Did they offer Him everything they could? Or were they less generous with their hospitality, not fully understanding what was happening under their very own roof?
I think one reason that we hold on to that fictional innkeeper character is that we understand that it is actually very easy to shut the door on Jesus. We know what it’s like to be stingy with the space in our hearts, and sometimes we’d just as well He looked for another place to make His messes. We may have even experienced great discomfort in the effort to finally make room for Jesus – as we faced the reality of having to get rid of so many other false gods taking up space inside of us. The innkeeper is a very easy role to play, indeed.
So what can you do right now to clear out space for the Lord? Dorothy Day writes, “It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ.… Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.” The invitation remains, and Christ does indeed knock on the door (Rev. 3:20). Let us be ready to make room. Let us open wide the doors and welcome Him in, begging Him to get comfortable and rearrange as He sees fit, expecting Him to stay and be our most intimate companion forevermore.