Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her king!
Let every heart prepare him room:
And Heaven and Nature sing!
And Heaven and Nature sing.
And Heaven, and Heaven, and Nature Sing.
Scripture. Luke 2:7.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Innkeeper. From Rev. Marie Wonders.
You may know that the best translation of the word “inn” is really “guest room.” Mary and Joseph likely stayed with relatives when they were in Bethlehem. In the Ancient Near East, the culture of hospitality and family demanded this: people who were family (no matter how distantly related) were kin and must be invited into one’s household. Likely, the house was stuffed with people and so Mary found the one private place she could go to have a baby in semi-privacy, the area where the animals were kept. The “innkeeper” as we traditionally think of him or her was likely a family who had given what room and hospitality they could to their third cousins twice removed—Joseph and Mary.
A good friend of mine got married very young. She and her husband were new college grads who decided to get hitched, live the bohemian life, and strike out into adult life together. Their living situation was a one bedroom “studio apartment” at the private school where one of them worked as a house parent to Chinese students. Much to their surprise and shock, they found themselves pregnant right after the honeymoon. The bohemian life looked more grim when morning sickness hit and my friend had to sneak past the students to throw up in the common bathroom. When their daughter was born, they had scrambled to find a new residence, but were still at the school. Having no space and no money, they put their daughter to sleep in a laundry basket each night. Occasionally, the Chinese exchange students who boarded at the school would run into my friends with their baby in tow in the lounge or the hall. An awkward smile might be shared as the high school students moved past them to their own dorm rooms.
The “innkeeper” is the unsuspecting relative that welcomed a tiny newborn into their home (willingly? begrudgingly?) giving them whatever room they did have and whatever privacy they could scrounge up. Like the Chinese students, they cleared a little room and offered what they could to a young family.
This fall, one of our pastors, Sara Wilhem Garbers, got together with some clergy friends and decided to create a worship and healing service for survivors of sexual assault. As a part of this gathering, churches were invited to bring prayer shawls (which are knitted blankets that have been created and prayed over to provide comfort to people in need of healing or in any kind of struggle). I knew Colonial has a knitting ministry and a prayer shawl stash, so I said I would bring some along. They added ours to the stack in the sanctuary. The prayer shawls were jumbled together, various colors and patterns flung over the prayer rails. The shawls struck me as a practical, Minnesotan-as-hot-dish, colorful and kind way to reach out with love and yarn. There had to have been at least 100 shawls piled up. Yet, every prayer shawl in that sanctuary was either used for prayer that night, or was taken to distribute to ones in need of prayer and comfort.
Who would have thought that a simple knitted shawl could be in such demand? Who would have thought that the knitters of those shawls could reach out with their prayers and touch someone who had faced the trauma of sexual violence?
When I think of the innkeeper, I think of simple ways we give what we can to make a space for another.
We pass in the hall and give a shy smile.
We lend someone our stable.
We knit a blanket, bathed in prayer.
We can’t always do big things for others or for God, but the little practical gifts, “Small things with great love” as Mother Theresa would say, do “make room” to let Christ come in.
So come, Jesus, come. We welcome you here.
Questions for Consideration.
Closing Prayer. O God, Help us to make room in our community for newcomers. Help us make room in our school/work/homes for newcomers. May we make room in our hearts for newcomers. And by making room in the ways that we can, may you come in, Lord Jesus. AMEN.