Day Seven: No Room At The Inn

Lorenzo Lotto  The Nativity, 1523  oil on panel, 46 x 35.9 cm

Samuel H. Kress Collection

There was no room at the Inn.  To us, that sounds like a necessary—if not a cozy—detail of the Christmas story.  Of course there was no room in the Inn, we think.  Jesus had to be born in a stable and laid in a manger!  But, the fact that Jesus was born in a stable was a consequence of the hard realities of life.  Bethlehem was overflowing with visitors because of the census.  Every place that a visitor might stay was filled.  The stable was all that was left.  No one was willing to share their space so that this woman who was about to give birth might have her baby in clean and warm surroundings.  “There was no room at the inn.” These words highlight the calloused attitude of the world to the beauty of new life.  They point out the self-centered attitude that most of us have when faced with people in need.  “Why should I give up my room for them?  This man and his pregnant wife are nobody special.”


And yet, we know that God was in charge.  He could have made it so that there was just one spot left when Mary and Joseph got to Bethlehem.  He could have arranged it so that Mary and Joseph were able to leave Nazareth earlier and arrive before all the rooms were taken.  Why didn’t God do that?  We have to assume that somehow it fit God’s purposes for his son to be born this way. 


At least three important truths are revealed in these events.  First, being born in a stable showed Jesus’ solidarity with the poor and the displaced.  It proved that Jesus came for all people—not just the rich and powerful.  Second, the truth of a powerful spiritual metaphor is revealed.  A manger is a feeding trough for animals.  So, being laid in a manger as though he were food anticipates that his body will one day be the “spiritual food” offered in the Lord’s Supper.  Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, wrote in the fifth century:


He found humanity reduced to the level of the beasts.  Therefore he is placed like feed in a manger, that we, having left behind our carnal desires, might rise up to that degree of intelligence which befits human nature.  Whereas we were brutish in soul, by now approaching the manger, yes, his table, we find no longer feed, but the bread from heaven, which is the body of life.

—Commentary on Luke, Homily I *


But, most importantly, it showed that God came in an attitude of great humility.  He could have claimed for himself the best place.  He could have demanded that the world worship him.  Roman emperors certainly did.  Yet Christ came in gentleness and humility.  Instead of demanding our worship or forcing his way upon us he waits.  He waits for us to invite him in.


Maybe This Time


Let it be this time
that the stable is open
within me.


Let it be this time
that the light is born
 within me.


Let it be this time
that Christ is come
within me.


—Joanna M. Weston *