No Donkey and No Inn

Circle member Rev. Jon Humphries reflects on the story of Jesus birth as it is in the scriptures, without the cultural and religious filters on. This is what he found. 

1. Life is hard for many. They eek out their daily existence following routine and culture. For some, even in the midst of daily struggle, their faith in God is unshaken and it resources them in their living. Faith in God can be a source of joy in itself, but can also open us to finding greater joy in life (Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1: 46-55)

2. Life presents many challenges and complicated choices. What the right thing to do is not often easily discerned, and sometimes when we think we are doing the right thing, we aren’t. Yet, God is at work guiding people who are open to such guidance. (Matt. 1: 19-25)

3. Engaging with God, as wonderful and wondrous as it can be, can also be perilous and scary. It is usually not the easy option and those around you usually do not comprehend or understand how God is at work in your life and can often make life hard. Following God will often put you in the line of peril as you walk a way which resists the dominance of culture, tradition, power and authority. God is with us in our suffering and holds compassion and support for all and gifts us hope and peace through a matrix of meaning and purpose. (Luke 1: 26-38)

4. There are many hard journeys to be made in life and often the requirement to go on such journeys are not determined by our own choosing, but is forced upon us by circumstance. God is with us in our journeying, not magically making things easy or the way straight, but with us none the less. (Luke 2: 1-5)

5. The world does not always make room for people in need, or when room is granted it is not the ideal space to inhabit, but is often the only choice for those who are desperate. God brings good things into such spaces, amidst the stress and struggle. (Luke 2: 6)

6. The humble hold a special place in God’s commonwealth. God’s preferential option for the poor awakens hope and the potential for transformation. However, change is slow. Hope comes, but sometimes takes much time to develop into fruition. (Luke 2: 8-12)

7. The wise seek God in unexpected places. They follow the signs of God which lead them beyond the familiar and often outside one’s comfort zone. The treasure which is found in the Christ calls out gifts from us. In this we find meaning, purpose and peace in our being. (Matthew 2: 1-2)

8. The powerful cause suffering. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, through politics, wealth or privilege, usually result in suffering for the less fortunate when power is used selfishly. When wealth, political power and privilege are used to target individuals, then not only do the individuals suffer, but there is collateral suffering of innocents as well. How God is at work is often hard to fathom, for injustice often goes unchecked or unstopped. Yet, God is at work for good in the world, and we are called to join in this story. (Matthew 2: 13-16)

9. The incarnation of God as a human goes under-recognised, misunderstood and misrepresented. There is no donkey and no hotel. There are angels, but they are pretty scary even though they bring good news. At heart of the story there is a poor couple being imposed on by the state and even by God. Even if they were likely staying with family (given that Bethlehem was Joseph’s home town and the birth of a child was the most dangerous time of a woman’s life and would have surely had women from the family present), there was no room to give birth in the area where the rest of the family and visitors were being accommodated. (Luke 2: 7)

There is little tinsel or family time in the Christmas story. Family is there implicitly, perhaps, but we miss the reason for the season if we limit it to pleasurable celebration for us and our own. The gift giving of God has little to do with extraneous or whimsical tokens of affection, but the powerful resources of hope, peace, joy and love to help people in the reality of life. The story of the nativity reminds us that God humbly enters into our existence and has to break open a place in our living through sacrifice and love. It is the ultimate act of solidarity and compassion. It is the beginning of the deep and real work of God as true at-one-ment in Christ which starts in a manger and reaches fulfilment in crucifixion. The way to the manger needs to remember and foreshadow the way of the cross, all of which is the story of how deeply God loves us and how this love is literally embodied in Jesus. This is truly something to think about. God bless.