First posted on Facebook, 09 December 2017:
Looking for a story from the life of Jesus that features a donkey, inn, and innkeeper? You want the parable Jesus told commonly known as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke chapter 10), not the account of his birth (Luke chapter 2).
There is no mention of a donkey or an innkeeper in the account of Jesus’ birth. In several English translations, there is an inn—but this is a mis-translation of the word for the guest room. Jesus was born in a family home, most probably (it is implied but we aren’t explicitly told) the home of Joseph’s parents. Most probably a home with one main room, and a smaller room in which Joseph and Mary were living at the time (and for a couple of years after, before fleeing to Egypt). And no, they didn’t arrive on the night she gave birth. But, we are told, that room had no room (space) for Mary to give birth, attended, as she would have been, by Joseph’s female relatives and in all likelihood the women who fulfilled the role of midwives in the community. So Jesus was born in the living room. A room shared, at one end, by the peasants’ animals at night, their body heat providing warmth for their owners. The manger was a bowl hollowed out of the stone floor, a contained space filled with clean and insulating hay—the ideal place for a new born to sleep.
This is not a story of haphazard lack of planning, or (at this point) battling against the odds, or of a lack of welcome. It is the very opposite: a story of a community functioning as community. A story of God and his people very carefully planning and loving and witnessing something simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary together.
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