Friday, December 18, 2009

Who was there in Bethlehem?

In preparing a devotion for Senior High Youth, it struck me that the folks in Bethlehem who crowded the inns and scarfed up all the spare beds were not unthinking and uncaring strangers but the family of Joseph and Mary.

If the census required that all of the house and line of David be registered from their home town, the folks who kept Joseph and Mary from a room were not some mob of foreigners but, well, their aunts, uncles, cousins and their hoard.

It is often true that we treat strangers better than we treat our own family members and loved ones -- a fact often proven true at Christmas when houses are filled with people who come together not necessarily because they want to be there but because they are family and this is what families do. I have often noticed that strangers are more kindly in their willingness to give up something for someone in need than the people who know them, and supposedly care for them. Perhaps this puts a whole new light on the Bethlehem and no room in the inn thing.

Mary and Joseph were going home, all their relatives were there, too. So, just as Jesus was rejected by those around whom He grew up, we have here another rejection. This one at the hands of His very family members. It makes it even more pointed when John says, He came to His own and His own knew Him not...

It also makes it logical why it is easier to tell a stranger about the good news of Jesus than it is to speak the Gospel (or the Law if need be) to those closest to you. Those with whom we are most closely connected and to whom we should be most forthcoming in witness, are those who do not want to hear what we have to say and with whom we find it hardest to speak honestly, openly, and clearly of the hope that is in us and the faith we confess.

Perhaps it all started in Bethlehem, when folks looked at of their rooms to see who had showed up looking for a place, and somebody said, "Go back to sleep. It is so and so's son or so and so's daughter." And if they noticed a bulge that said "Baby coming!" they probably thought, "Well, they should have planned this out better and gotten here early like we did. It won't hurt them to suffer a bit. They will find a place...eventually"

And still it continues... Why Pastors have trouble serving parishes that include family members or in places where they grew up... Why people have trouble sharing the Gospel with those closest to them... Why we fawn all over the new faces on Sunday morning and say not a word to the familiar faces of people we know well but don't get along with so well... A line of rejection and hesitance that began with Joseph and Mary seeking a place in a village swelled up with relatives who were not willing to give up theirs for anyone... not even the Son of God...


Sue said...

Interesting post and good food for thought. Thank you for this. I will ponder it for some time to come.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this thought-provoking post. There's lots of truth in it.

I'm not sure the initial premise is correct, though. In his recent book, "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes", Kenneth Bailey suggests that our traditional understanding of the "inn" in Bethlehem and the "stable" are perhaps mistaken. Based on careful consideration of the vocabulary used along with his long experience in the Middle East, he suggests the "stable" was the lower level of the home where animials were normally kept at night.

I can't do his presentation justice in this format, but he makes a strong case to revise how we take some of the details of Luke's account. (The other studies in the book are well worth reading and contemplating as well.)

Thanks for your excellent blog!

Pr. John Rutz