From My Window - There Was No Room In The InnIssue Date: December 21, 2016
By Jane Thibodeau Martin, daughter of the Old-Time
While setting up my nativity set, I was thinking about the Bible story about the infant Jesus being born in a stable and found myself being quite judgmental. (And about people who lived in 1 B.C., no less, whom of course I had never met.) It was troubling me that an inn, or "hotel" of the time, would be so full of people that a traveler, a heavily pregnant woman with birth imminent, would be turned away for lack of space. Even if the innkeeper was a totally heartless soul, surely a traveler present, seeing the terrible situation of the young couple, would offer to give up some space for her.
So I did something unusual for me, I looked up the actual passage of Luke 2:7. If you re-read the actual Bible story in Luke, there is nothing in it other than a reference to a manger (animal feed trough) that indicates the baby was born in an actual barn or stable, although that is possible. I came across a fascinating analysis of the passage that postulated a very different but convincing theory of the actual situation of the birth, one that is much less inhospitable than the one we see represented in our traditional manager scenes and the much sung "Away In A Manger." I won't go into the total logic of the alternative theory, but I have to admit it made me feel better about my ancient fellow humans. And it pointed out to me that I was wrong, as usual, to be judging others, whether they lived in 1 B.C. or 2016 A.D., without taking time to learn the facts.
We have to remember that inns of those times were merely larger interior spaces with a roof and hospitable fire; there were no "individual" or private rooms such as our current hotels have. People would gather around the fire, and when they were ready to sleep, find an unoccupied floor space and lie down. There would be little or no privacy whatsoever; and giving birth in such a situation, crowded and surrounded by strangers, would have been unthinkable. Given that option myself, I'd also prefer the privacy of an outbuilding or any other shelter. It may actually be that that phrase "Because there was no room at the Inn," actually meant "Because there was no (suitable for a birth) room at the Inn."
As for the infant being laid in a manger, I used more than one item as a crib when necessary while my children were babies and I was traveling " a dresser drawer works well in a pinch for an infant. A manger with clean straw or hay was probably not a bad option for a swaddled infant, and one I would have been willing to resort to in an emergency when my babies were tiny. It may be that the birth occurred in a storage area, or the living space of the innkeeper himself, and that a manger was brought in and pressed into service as a crib, because it was the best available option. Remember, no infant was born in a hospital setting for centuries.
So maybe the innkeeper and fellow travelers were not so thoughtless after all. I believe that most people are kind and considerate. It's never a good thing when I jump to conclusions; nor make judgments about people whose situation and life experience is entirely different from my own.
And sometimes I just fail to recognize that a simple action on my part could be very helpful to someone else, stranger or not. And taking that action, automatically assuming the other person is, like me, at least trying to be kind and considerate, makes this world a better place.
A couple of years ago my daughter and I traveled to Wisconsin in January for a long weekend. We had been unable to come home over Christmas because my husband had been hospitalized for many days; so we had undelivered Christmas gifts and one very special passenger " Juniper, a sweet kitten born to a neighbor's feral cat that was lucky enough to be going to live with my sister in Madison. On our way back to Oklahoma we got caught in a severe blizzard, bad enough that even a Wisconsin winter driving veteran like me got nervous about being on the road. Like many other travelers, were forced off the highway in Illinois at night when the interstate was closed, and gratefully pulled into the parking lot of the first hotel we came to.
It was obvious we could be stranded for multiple days, so after finding out to my relief they still had rooms, I asked for a double. There were just the two of us, my daughter and I, and a single would have done, but I figured if we were stuck for a long time having a little extra space would be good. I was thinking of myself, and my comfort, only. The clerk said she had one double left but my daughter spoke up. "Mom, leave that one for a bigger family that is stranded. We don't need the extra bed." She was so right, and making this very small gesture made us both feel good, and made me feel proud of her as well. It was reinforced when I came downstairs to the hotel lobby in the morning in search of coffee, and saw several tired families who had spent the entire night quite uncomfortably in the lobby.
So whether or not Jesus was born in a stable, I took away the reminder I should not judge others harshly unless I take time to learn about and understand their perspective and their situation. That's a good lesson for Christmas or any other time. The travelers crowded into the inn were probably not bad people at all; nor are others I may be tempted to judge. It is one thing to celebrate Christmas, it is another challenge entirely to live as our faith commands us to.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you, regardless of your faith, your skin color, your circumstances, or any other personal characteristics. We are all one people.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.
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