Luke is almost tight-lipped about it. Like a physician sworn to confidentiality, Luke gives us so little information about Jesus’ birth. He tells us why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. He tells us the “when” in terms of Mary’s pregnancy—“while they were there, the time came….” There has been a need on our part to come up with the rest of the story. Luke tells us the highpoint of the story is that Jesus was born into our dusty and “dust-level” world to redeem us whose hope had turned to dust because of sin and death.
We want to know more. In many cases, what we think we know has become so important—traditions do that, become so very important. One of those traditions is based upon an interesting choice of words that the translators of the King James Version chose to explain the Greek word for “a space for guests.” By 1611, a space for guests was an inn. So, instead of translating Luke’s words as “because the space for guests was already crowded,” the translators said, “because there was no room in the inn.” So, the tradition of stressed or mean inn-keepers who turned away a woman in labor was born.
“…a family opened their home to guests who needed a place to stay.”
The typical First Century Judean peasant home was mostly a large room with an elevated portion of the floor where the family would sleep on their mats. This part was elevated because the rest of the room was where the cooking happened and the animals were kept. Often, archaeologists tell us, a home would have a guest room. Hospitality is still a major goal in Middle Eastern society. Some scholars suggest that the manger into which Jesus was laid, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was in that lower level of the main room of a house, because the guest room was already crowded with other guests. Not everyone is agreed on this understanding of Luke’s telling of the story. You can keep the stable in your mind’s eye, if you’d like. (Personally, this explanation works for me, because it explains Matthew’s telling that the magi from the East came to a house.
I share this telling of the story because in it a family opened their home to guests who needed a place to stay. This is the main thought behind Family Promise—a service project that our Service Team has been exploring. The family of God at Bethlehem would open our “home” to guests, who need a place to stay for a week (at night). The Service Team presented this opportunity to serve our neighbors to the congregation back in October and a number of people expressed their interest and volunteered to play some role in being hospitable to families who are part of Family Promise. A steering committee has been formed to plan how we can move forward and we are hoping to open our “home” to strangers this Spring. There will be more information coming in January. If you have questions, talk with a member of the Service Team or me. In a small way, then, the story of Jesus’ coming continues as we follow the example of that un-named family who made room for guests.
Blessed Christmas and continued joy in the journey,