Welcoming Jesus

A reflection from the moderator, the Rev. Amanda Currie

Advent & Christmas Resources

Greetings to you, siblings in Christ, and best wishes from The Presbyterian Church in Canada for a blessed and peaceful Christmas.

A friend of mine had a baby a few weeks ago. And about a week later she made this comment on Facebook: “I have very quickly come to the conclusion that it takes three adults to perfectly care for a newborn. A village would be a God-send—three adults just makes good sense. I have just as rapidly become deeper in awe and admiration of single parents.”

Of course, during COVID-19 restrictions, three adults helping out in the home is not really an option for this couple, but a wider network of other adults are providing various kinds of support and encouragement, and this little family will be just fine.

My friend’s comment came to mind when I began to read about and reflect on the nativity story as I was preparing for Christmas services. I thought about the lonely couple on the road to Bethlehem, just when the pregnancy was reaching full term. I imagined them knocking on doors and being turned away again and again, becoming more and more desperate.

Finally, someone recognizes the urgency and gives them a place in some kind of stable, or the back-room of a house, or some sources even say that it was a cave. She gives birth to the child, wraps him up tightly, and lies him down in a manger—an animal’s feed box—because there was no place for them in the inn.

But then I read about a recent analysis of the language of this verse that offers another possible interpretation. Stephen C. Carlson contends “that the term kataluma [the inn] has a generic sense of ‘place to stay’ and that the final clause of Luke 2:7 should be rendered ‘because they had no space in their place to stay.’”1

Eric Barreto explains that “instead of Luke imagining a full inn, he narrates how Joseph and Mary were staying with Joseph’s family in a room properly sized for a recently married couple but not big enough to accommodate the birth of a child.”

“Thus, Luke narrates that Mary and Joseph moved from ‘their place’ [their little room] to the common room in the home where their relatives would have been staying. That she laid Jesus in a manger does not mean that they were in a drafty barn; instead, Mary and Joseph are surrounded by friends and family during the dangers, anticipation, and joys of childbirth.”

They had at least three adults to help look after the child, and possibly even a village.

I don’t know which interpretation is right, but I’d like to sit with this one for a while. I’m pondering the idea that when God came to be physically present with us as a tiny, vulnerable human child, that (at least initially) we welcomed him, and cared for him, and protected him from cold, and hunger, and isolation. I want to imagine that extended family gathered around (with the animals too) to look into Jesus’ beautiful eyes, and touch his tiny hands, and wonder at the miracle of life. I want to imagine them not leaving him long in that feed-box, but passing him from one set of loving arms into another, each one treasuring his little body as a gift from God.

That scene makes sense to me because I believe that God has made us human beings in God’s own image. God has made us with natural inclinations towards building relationships of love and care and community. God has made us—not to live as isolated individuals—but to form connections, to nurture relationships, and to care for the most vulnerable among us.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on us in so many ways, and one of those has been the restrictions we had to set up to keep each other safe. We had to care for one another by staying apart. And this Christmas will be especially difficult because we will still need to stay apart in order to protect the most vulnerable people in our communities—the newborn babies and the elderly, the health care workers and others whose essential work requires them to interact with the public, Indigenous communities and those who live in poverty, overcrowded homes, on the streets or in shelters.

Remember what Jesus taught his disciples about the end of things? That when the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will say to his people:

Come…inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me
(Matthew 25:34b–36, 40b).

This Christmas, I want to remember that we know how to do all those things. We know how to be the villages that welcome and nurture the new babies. We know how to care for the sick and suffering and hungry. We know how to surround those who are grieving with love and prayer. These are the things that we are made to do for one another, and as much as the pandemic has made things so much more difficult, it has not stopped us. We’ve had to be more creative, more courageous, and more determined. But as much as we have stayed apart, we have not isolated ourselves into independent households that no longer care about our neighbours and communities.

Although the vaccines are beginning to roll out this week, we know that it will be a long time before enough people have received them for things to start to get back to normal. So, wherever you are this Christmas…whether you are alone, or perhaps together with your little family…think about the possibility that when God came to live among us as a newborn, vulnerable child, we knew how to welcome and protect him. Imagine yourself among the extended family that night, rejoicing with the young couple and sharing in the nurture and protection of the child.

And be absolutely sure that God continues to live among us even now in the form of those who are lonely and isolated, those who are sick and suffering, those who are grieving terrible losses, those in long-term care or in prisons, and those who are putting themselves at risk as they continue to serve others.

May God bless you this Christmas with hope and with peace, and may God give you all that you need to share in welcoming Jesus.

1 Joel B. Green et al, eds., Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), p. 80.