If it were true, then for God to become a human being, without forfeiting god-ness, and to enter into history just as each one of us has entered into history, would turn the world up-side-down.
It would be unimaginable to domesticate such a wild and risky course of action.
Advent begins on Sunday: an annual opportunity to set the story free to kick down the doors of the stable within which we have tried to domesticate it.
We all know that Mary wrapped her firstborn in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. We’ve all seen nativity plays: the boys playing the innkeepers who turn Mary and Joseph away, and the boy playing the innkeeper who takes pity on the waifs and strays and leads then round the back to his stable. We’ve all lived with the pantomime danger that one year the first innkeeper will ruin the whole story with a wickedly cheery, “Room? Yes, we have plenty of room – come in!”
I love that the TNIV updates the account (Luke 2:6, 7) “...because there was no guest room available for them.” This is a more accurate translation. The word traditionally translated ‘inn’ does not mean ‘commercial inn’ (such as the inn the good Samaritan left the man attacked by robbers at, to recuperate) but, precisely, ‘guest room’ (as in the room in which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the evening of his arrest). The typical house in that culture at that time was composed of one room in which the family lived – cooked, ate, slept – and a separate guest room, either at one end or on the flat roof. The animals shared the family room – though they may have been contained at the end (the opposite end from the guest room) at night. The manger was in the family room – either scooped out of the floor, or raised above it. Kenneth E Bailey writes about this here.
Contrary to everything we know about the Christmas story, Jesus was born in a house, with attending midwives, wrapped and laid in a well-insulated bed made of hypo-allergenic material. And Mary didn’t go into labour the moment they arrived in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph had most probably been welcomed in to the home of one of Joseph’s relatives, living with them for some time during a time of social upheaval. Their guest room was already taken: rather than turning Jesus’ family away, they welcomed them in to the very heart of their home.
What would it mean for us to welcome Jesus’ family into the very heart of our home this Advent? Not his mum and dad, but his brothers and sisters.
What would it look like if his breaking-in to our world really were to turn it up-side-down?