Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (KJV). These are the words and images ingrained into my head as far back as I can remember. Mary and Joseph wandering from place to place, but because everyone else was in town too, all the rooms were full. Jesus was born in poverty, amongst the animals, as a demonstration of how humble, how human, how much like us he was.
But recently I read this version: she “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (NRSV). It struck me that not having a place to stay might not just be an example of Jesus’ humility, and honestly, poor planning on the part of his parents, but perhaps a bit of foreshadowing.
When we say there was no room at the inn, it sounds like bad luck. If there’d only been a bit more space, they would have gladly let Mary and Joseph stay. When we say there is no place for them, it sounds more like rejection. Even if the innkeepers had some space, they weren’t going to let Mary and Joseph inside, especially if they’d had any inkling of their story, her being pregnant before they wed and all.
Maybe it was a lack of accommodation, but maybe there was more to the story. Jesus would be rejected all of his life by everyone from the people in power to those from his hometown. Almost every time we see Jesus eating, preaching, or simply being kind to others, he is with the outcasts, the ones who had no place in society. He told stories about servants, shepherds, and farmers, and praised good Samaritans and widows who gave all they had.
Everyone had a place at Jesus’ table, which was, in fact, metaphoric given he did not actually have a table and was dependent on others for welcome and sustenance. And so, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Is the table at school merely full without extra chairs or are some students not allowed to sit there? Do we extend welcome or subtly let others know they don’t have a place in our communities, be they small or large? Do we try to understand that some people have felt like outcasts their entire lives even if we’ve never felt that level of rejection?
There is a difference between no room right now and no place at all, ever. Jesus understood the people on the outside. He cared about every person he met, and he made sure each one felt his love. My prayer is that we be ever more mindful of those who feel left out, walked on, and cast aside, and that we seek ways in which to include them. Jesus showed us that love is expansive, not a limited commodity to hoard. May we follow in his outcast footsteps.