No Room in the Inn

Monday, December 20, 2010

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she
gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed
him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Luke 2:6-7 (NIV)

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken several days, and Mary must have been exhausted by the time she reached Bethlehem. Surely she longed to rest and to give birth in private. But there was no room in the inn.

On December 24, 1957, I traveled to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan with my parents and my two brothers. We did not have reservations for the night, and the hostel we usually stayed at in Jerusalem had been booked up for months. But my father must have been confident that he could find something after we got to Bethlehem.

It was raining when we arrived in Bethlehem, and we were wet and cold by the time we reached the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus' birth. (That's the Church of the Nativity at the head of this post.) Although we were out of the rain inside the unheated church, the cold and damp penetrated its walls, and we could not get warm.

Then we went down into the crypt--the cave where Jesus is said to have been born. And down in that small cave, with lamps burning brightly and a continuous stream of people walking through, the warmth was all around us.

No one knows what the weather was like when Mary and Joseph arrived at the stable, but any woman who has carried a baby into the third trimester can tell you that Mary would have been very tired. The stable may not have seemed like much, but she was probably grateful for it. The stable would have given Mary a place to rest and to give birth in private, and the animals would have provided warmth with their body heat.

Jesus came to that humble stable to give us salvation through his death on the cross. But he also came to give us rest from our burdens and to surround us with the warmth of his love.

On December 24, 1957, there were so many people wanting to see the crypt that the caretakers had to tell them to keep moving. Yet they let us stay in the crypt, sitting on a ledge out of the way of the crowd, while my father went to find a room for the night. The caretakers had compassion for a mother with three children between the ages of four and eight.

The innkeeper did not have an empty room, but he allowed Mary and Joseph to stay in his stable. The innkeeper had compassion for an obviously pregnant Mary.

Jesus had compassion on us all when he came to earth as a baby so he could suffer and die a cruel death on the cross. He gave up a heavenly throne to be born in the humblest circumstances imaginable. And he did it all for us.

To my tired six-year-old mind, it seemed like we stayed in the crypt all night waiting for my father. According to my parents, however, it was only one or two hours before my father returned with news that he had found a hotel room in Beit Jala, several miles away.

The hotel room in Beit Jala gave us a place to stay for the rest of the night, but we were not comfortable there. The room was damp and cold, with no heat, and we slept with our clothes on.

This world gives us a temporary place to stay, but we should not get too comfortable here. One day God will give us an eternal home if we believe in him through faith. In our Father's house we will never be tired or damp or cold, and we will find a room already waiting for us.

Have a blessed Christmas.

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I previously published this article in The Lutheran Witness, Vol. 123 (December 2004).

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