And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
There was no room.
One of the oldest hymns of the church is preserved for us in the book of Philippians. There the descent of Jesus is recorded for us in the lyric which says he did not consider equality with God something that should be grasped, but he left what was rightfully his, taking on the form of a human being, humbled as a servant, humbled even to the point of death on a cross.
The substance of this hymn is unwrapped again and again in the stories of the life of Jesus beginning even before his birth.
Here in Luke’s Gospel we see it.
A mass movement of people on the way to register. But Joseph makes his way to Bethlehem, the house of David, to the very place he belongs. He goes to the ancestral homeland with his heavily pregnant partner. The story is told in recognizable terms. The time comes for the child to be born and she gives birth to a son and wraps him gently. But then the camera pulls back and the scene widens and we see something that leaves us uncomfortable – the baby is laid in a manger.
Because there was no room.
Joseph came to his familiar place, but there was no room where he should have expected it.
John’s Gospel unfolds it in a similar way. He came unto his own, he says, and his own did not receive him.
Both Gospels tell a story that begins in a rejection and as we read on, that rejection shapes and colours all that follows.
Jesus enjoys the company of the prostitutes and other undesirables. He heals the blind and the lame and those with skin conditions, all of whom were excluded from the faith life of the community. He tells stories of ungrateful sons who are welcomed home again and of a banquet where the rich and powerful are excluded and the poor and lowly from the roads and country lanes are invited to dine. He rescues the woman caught in adultery and sends the rich lawyer away disappointed.
Always, always, the one who found himself on the outside from the time of his birth reaches out to those whom society has kept on the margins. This is his ministry. This is the Gospel.
God in the person of Jesus is walking this earth and wrapping the outsider, the rejected, the scorned into the love of God, while those whom the rest of the world might have reasonably expected to have been his own, reject him.
[photo from here]