Images of Mary and Joseph haunt me. Not the ones you find in most churches mind you, those ones that get commissioned to be placed in stained glass that feature the immaculately white and pure Mary looking all European and very definitely not pregnant or Palestinian. No, the images that haunt me this time of year are the more raw, modern depictions like Everett Patterson’s Jose Y Maria, which depicts the couple, struggling, in the rain, calling for help, in a bleaker by sadly relatable setting. The No Vacancy sign flickers and calls the question: would you let this couple in?
This is a high bar for most of us to say YES to without reservations. It is one of the reasons I love being part of Foothills, because through all of our shared work, with One Village One Family and our partnerships with Homeless Gear, our commitment to Faith Family Hospitality, and our Sanctuary Church work, we get to answer this question with a collective yes.
But even then the question and the images still haunt me.
Meg Barnhouse in her article Bethlehem’s Hospitality grants me a much needed reframe. Helping me find a personal yes of course in the Christmas story.
When reading the Nativity story through the eyes of Arab-Palestinian culture, one comes to a stunning revelation: There was no Inn.
If you have ever traveled to the Middle East, which I have had the lucky fortune of doing so, you learn quickly highest among all the values is that of hospitality. Even being distant relatives Joseph was returning to his ancestral city, and thus would have been welcomed in by some distant relative.
The room that Jesus came into the world in was not the stable at the back of some Hotel, but Joseph’s distant relatives family room, which according to biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey in Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes “had an area usually about four feet lower, for the family donkey, the family cow, and two or three sheep.”
As Meg Barnhouse writes “There wasn’t room in the guest room, so the baby was laid in one of the mangers dug into the stone floor of the family room or made of wood and stood up on the family room floor, surrounded by animals, aunties, uncles, and cousins”
It is the story of the divine being born in the moments when we find our people and together try our best to accommodate all that life throws our way. Even if it is crowded and noisy, even if it all didn’t go the way we planned. Something beautiful, maybe even divine, can happen when we embrace what is, in all its absurdness miraculousness, and just do the best we can.