It Was Not A Silent Night

“It was not a silent night. There was blood on the ground. You could hear a woman cry, in the alleyways that night, in the streets of David’s town…”

Joseph of Nazareth, betrothed to Mary of Nazareth, travel to the city of Bethlehem, Joseph’s ancestral hometown. And Mary, the story we know so well in our Christmas hymns and readings, is with child. In Luke’s account, what happens next is very straightforward, told without fanfare: “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” It’s not an insignificant detail that the Greek word translated here as “inn” is used later in Luke’s text and is translated as “upper room,” the location where Jesus and his disciples eat Passover together before Jesus’ death. And the best scholarship we have on what it would have actually been like in the 1st century Middle East tells us that what is described here in Luke’s birth narrative is a typical home in which the “upper room,” the “inn” in our text, would have been reserved to host travelers. The ground level room would have been the family room – and in that culture, the animals would have been brought in to join the family for the night. They didn’t have separate stables for their animals in 1st century middle eastern culture – we’ve read that into the story.

So Luke tells us that there is no space in the guest room. It’s full. When it comes time to birth God into the world, this feat is accomplished by a travel-weary teenage girl and her *almost*-husband, who are completely dependent on the hospitality of others – and not just a private “you stay in your room; I’ll stay in mine” kind of hospitality – oh no. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a home – right in the middle of the cooking, cleaning, playing, eating, animal care-taking. Right in the middle of ordinary human life. God with us. I love what Sarah Bessey says here: Birth is a thin place. It’s always too much – too much pain, too much waiting, too much joy or sorrow, too much love, and far too messy with too little control.”

In this great reversal of every hope and expectation for the long awaited Messiah King, Jesus is birthed among ordinary people, likely surrounded by a large family with children and animals in the home of Jewish peasants. Right in the middle of ordinary human life. God with us. In the season of advent, we wait. We wait together for the coming of Christ – a story told and remembered of his first coming – a hopeful expectation of his coming in our everyday moments of longing and waiting – and a joyful anticipation of his final coming. And now, on this Christmas eve, we shift our prayers of “Come, Lord Jesus” to joyful refrains of “God with us,” as we bear witness to the new life breaking in.

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