Questions Hidden in the Christmas Story
There was no place for them in the guestroom.
I come from a large family, with most of them living in Northern Alabama. But starting with my parents’ generation, the lure of better jobs and schools drew a lot of us away. Many went north, some went west, and quite a few relocated to larger cities down South. This means I likely have relatives near any major American city I visit. Should I land in, say, Phoenix or Miami or Boston and find my hotel overbooked, I know to call my people. In fact, because my family is steeped in Southern hospitality, I would be in big trouble if I needed somewhere to stay and didn’t reach out to them.
So where are Joseph’s people?
Recall how the story goes. Augustus Caesar decides to update the Roman tax rolls. Everyone has to return to their home villages to register, which means Joseph—a descendant of King David—has to return to Bethlehem—a.k.a. the City of David—to be counted. He arrives with his fiancée, Mary, who is nine months’ pregnant. They can’t find accommodations and end up in a filthy stable, where she gives birth to a little boy and lays him in a nasty manger.
The way this story usually gets told is deeply informed by American tourist mindsets. Presumably the hotel rooms in Bethlehem are filled when this young couple shows up. (Forget the Marriott—not even the Motel 6 has any vacancies.) But this telling, which has its own apparent set of difficulties, doesn’t answer the big question.
Where are Joseph’s people?
This is his hometown. His family comes from here. Even if they all moved away, they would still be need to return for the registration. Surely there are a few cousins or aunts or possibly even Joseph’s own parents with a little room to spare. Where are they?
This story is pressing us to look more deeply into the social fabric of its set-up. There are threads we need to pull so we can unravel some of the myth to get to harder realities. Why didn’t Joseph’s people come to their aid? Why didn’t they make room for this young and needy couple?
Luke (who’s writing to a Gentile audience) makes sure we understand that before the Christ Child even appeared there were deep-seated prejudices that put his life at risk. As we relish candle glow and carols, our own family and friends’ gatherings, the overly romanticized imagery of a clean baby cooing in a hygienically pristine barn stall, let’s not avoid the hard questions. The story is trying to tell us something about acceptance and making room for unwelcome wayfarers who pass through our lives.
May we enable the discomfort of these tidings to reach our hearts, even as sing of comfort and joy.
Join us this coming Sunday as we join together for our monthly worship experience. Our theme for December is “Make Room” and we will focus on often overlooked messages in the Advent and Christmas narratives. And—of course, being Gather—we will also practice joy and togetherness! Worship begins at 5pm CST in the Parlor of Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake Street, Oak Park. If you’re unable to join us in person, you can worship with us online via FB Live.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.