Last Christmas, rather than giving my heart to some girl who would have only given it away the next day (rather a waste of a pretty vital organ…) I watched the BBC’s rather good Nativity series, which gave a pretty solid portrayal of the nativity story, neatly split into four episodes run on consecutive nights in soap opera fashion. And one thing it did quite well that I hadn’t really thought much about was the arrival of Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem.
We know there was no room in the inn, the Bible tells us that (Luke 2:7 “She wrapped him in snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn”). Carols tell us that. No school nativity would be complete without an innkeeper delivering those famous words. But Nativity helped explain a reason why may have been no room in the inn.
Under Jewish law adultery was a crime punishable by stoning – in his adult ministry Jesus saves the life of a women caught in adultery with his ‘Let him who is without sin throw the first stone’ speech. By being pregnant and not married Mary was committing a serious social offence – Joseph’s initial reaction when he found she was pregnant and it wasn’t his was “to break the engagement quietly, so as not to disgrace her publically” (Matt 1:19) – he knew what was in store for her once word go out. But after a night time visit from an angel he stands by her.
Joseph was taking her to Bethlehem for the census because that is where his family was from (Luke 2:1-4). Bethlehem was a small town, it would have been a tight-knit community where everyone knew everybody and knew everybody’s business. They would have known Mary and Joseph weren’t yet married, and would have assumed that Mary had broken the law about remaining a virgin until marriage (no angel came to tell them otherwise). And by this stage Mary was “obviously pregnant” (Luke 2:5) – her bump was on display for all to see. In Nativity there was a great scene as Joseph goes from door to door asking for a room and as people see Mary and her bump they immediately shut the door in his face. They would have wanted nothing to do with her. Maybe the reason there was no room in the inn was because people didn’t want to make room for someone like Mary.
Before Mary could give birth to Jesus, the saviour of the world, she had to endure the walk of shame. God used her shame and disgrace to bring about salvation for all who put their faith in Jesus as Lord. But first Mary had to go through the shame. Maybe sometimes the same can be true for us. Maybe you are going through a period where it seems people want nothing to do with you. Where people have no interest in listening when you try to tell them about Jesus. Where people cut you off, or exclude you. When they spread gossip and lies about you. When they try to destroy your character. And that can be hard. But know that it was in similar circumstances that Jesus entered the world. His mother was so ostracised that when he, the King of Kings, was born he was laid in a manager; an animal feeding trough for no-one else would take his mother in. The shame was all part of God’s salvation plan. The greatest of all became the least so we may be saved. Know that God always has a plan to prosper and not harm you, and that He works all things for the good of those who love him (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28)
Maybe you are on the other side of the inn-door today. The people of Bethlehem had the opportunity to welcome Jesus into the world, but they will forever go down in history as a town with no room for its King. Maybe you are the one metaphorically opening the door to find a disgraced sinner outside. And the question is will you make room for them in your life, or will they be left with no option but to resort to the stable because you shut the door on them when you had the chance? Remember Mary and her walk of shame carrying our unborn Lord. Remember that whatever you do for ‘the least of these’ you do for Christ (Matt 25:40) – don’t shut the door on Him. Don’t tell Jesus you have no room for him!