No Room in the Inn
The first pages of the New Testament provide a compelling narrative of the earliest episodes in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew’s gospel paints a vivid picture of the perils of life in first century Palestine. It was not an easy time.
A brutal and anxious king who called himself “Herod the Great” struggled to hang on to his power. Deceit, patricide, collusion with foreign powers and a penchant for building projects were all marks of his reign. Surrounded by yes-men, Herod ruled by blunt and bombastic force.
The people were restless. Not only were the politics a mess, the religious life of the community was marred by the corruption of the Temple. The Faith was in danger of becoming an empty system of protecting the privileged on top, and abandoning the disadvantaged on the bottom.
The economy too seemed stacked against the people. The gospel writer Luke reports that the reach of Pax Romana extended deep into community life. Augustus orders a “registration” or census in order to levy taxes on the people and markets of the day.
In this bleak and dark time, something happens.
Both Matthew and Luke call her a “virgin.” We remember her as Mary, the mother of Jesus. The census required a long journey with a man to whom she was betrothed. Very late in her pregnancy, she arrives in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem.
There was no room for them in the inn. She gave birth in a stable and laid the child in a manger. Although she was alone, exhausted, homeless, shamed, young and poor, her baby remains the embodiment of God’s promise of love, hope, justice and life to all people.
This story is not as unique as we would like to pretend. Tonight there will be many people in our community who will go without a place to live. Like Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, there are about 2,300 men, women and children in Snohomish County who will have to beg for a place to stay. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Moved by the plight of contemporary people in need and the Biblical stories of Jesus and his followers, some are making a difference. We thank local faith communities for their work to alleviate the challenge. We commend public leaders in elected office for bold initiatives like Everett’s Safe Streets and Low Barrier Housing. We celebrate the largess extended by local business leaders, too.
Perils in the first century, perils on the streets we share today. The story isn’t over. Deep in the roots of Christian faith, the narrative of the arrival of the Christ Child is cause for both rejoicing and renewed commitment to those who struggle to find a safe place to stay.