Unto us a child is born… The true story just wasn’t as nice as we make it out to be in children’s Christmas pageants. In his Gospel, Luke gives a hint at the shame suffered by Joseph and Mary. He writes that there was “no room for them in the inn.” Now, despite the sweet-talking and hoop-jumping we go through to clean-up the story, the text doesn’t say there was no room. The text says there was no room for them. And this should give us cause for a little head-scratching.
How is it that Joseph can’t find lodgings for himself and his pregnant wife in his own hometown? How is it that Joseph can't find anywhere to stay for himself and his pregnant wife in his own home town? No uncles or brothers who have a guest bedroom? Why should Joseph have to knock on the door of a motel in the first place? Do we really think the whole countryside was so anxious, so excited to pay their taxes, that this tiny, unimportant town a half an hour's walk from Jerusalem had absolutely no vacancies? And why wouldn't one of these Middle Easterners, who are so famed for their hospitality, allow this young family to share a room with other customers? It was a common practice, after all.
The answer is simple: consequences. Bethlehem is a village intent on making sure that there are consequences for this girl's improper behavior. Joseph takes his suddenly pregnant fiancé in instead of calling off the marriage or having her stoned to death (which was his legal right, by the way). But, in spite of his compassion (due to an angelic nudge in the right direction) Joseph was not doing “the right thing” according to these people. His decision to marry her was going to eat away at the moral fabric of the whole community. He spared this girl, this pregnant girl, the consequences of her actions, and that just wasn't right. So, there would be no room in the motel for Joseph and Mary, lest Bethlehem's daughters be given wild ideas.
And this was just the beginning of the shame Jesus would suffer at the hands of the sinners He came to die for, shame that would climax in a criminal's execution on a cross.
The Girl Who is Shamed
If Luke were to write about the Holy Family today, Joseph and Mary would be described as using the last pay phone in town, trying to find shelter across the street from the sort of motel that conjures images of shady drug deals in the parking lot and one hour rates for prostitutes and their johns. It’s a dark world, and its only hope is the shoot from Jesse’s stem breaking up through the concrete. A shoot that thirty-some-years later would bear the fruit of life on a tree of death. From His death all of you will escape the consequences of your own shame, guilt, fear, and blame, which you all share in common in your failure to see your Savior in the least of all people: this baby, Jesus. Born to this young mother, Mary. Mary, the girl who is pregnant. The girl who is shamed by Bethlehem. The mother of God who is told along with her husband, 'there are consequences for what you have done little girl. There are consequences for getting pregnant outside of marriage, and so there is no room for you here.'
Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, is the story of our salvation. Christmas is the time that we set aside to remember this holy family, that they were given no room. Not that there was no room, but that there was no room for them. This family and their child, Jesus, who came to save the littlest, the last, the lost, and the dead, which is all of you.
And so at this time of year we give thanks for His birth, because He came to save a world that was dark, and lost, and hopeless. And in His birth and in His death the Light of hope and peace shines on all of you today and forever.