Through the years, I have often found myself in Nashville around this second weekend of Advent, celebrating an early Christmas with my sister and brother in law. It is a highlight of my Christmas season. My sister and I will go out and about shopping and doing all of those pre Christmas things that sisters do. Then she will gather a group of friends for a special dinner. We listen to all our favorite Christmas music and there is always a lot of laughing and fun times. (We are celebrating together after Christmas this year…) In the midst of all of the celebrations, it seems I am usually there when my sister’s church is hosting “Room in the Inn”, a shelter service for the homeless that rotates among churches, much like the SOS program in the Detroit area. We all help with dinner and my brother-in-law, Rob is one of those sturdy souls who takes an overnight shift. The term “room in the inn” has come to mean shelter for those who are homeless. It comes, of course, from the part of the Christmas story where Mary and Joseph find “no room in the inn”. This may come as a surprise to some of you (it was for me, when I first studied the text) that the Inn Keeper, the stable and even the animals are NOT referenced in the actual text. (Say what? No Innkeeper?) Those elements to the story have been added through the years and yes, they help bring the story to life. Let’s focus for a moment on what the scripture actually says. In both Matthew and Luke it simply says that the baby was “laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The manger is a trough for feeding animals and it is usually found in a stable with animals. That is a reasonable assumption, but it is an assumption. In the grinding of my feminist axe, I have often thought that it must have been a woman (not the traditional male, Innkeeper) who found Mary a place to stay where she could give birth. Male or female, both scenarios with the innkeeper are conjecture, not from the text, not even from Luke, the story teller.
When one of my children was born, I remember in those first days, the baby bed in the next room seemed so far away. I remember looking everywhere around the house for something that might make a good bed that could stay close to me. (yes, I would at some point buy a cradle…) A manger is just the right size and if I had seen a manger lying around back in the “baby days”…. well you know what I’m trying to say. I am letting my imagination go this morning… so think about this. What if Mary and Joseph went to someone’s house because there was no room for them at the inn and what if they borrowed the manger for a place for the baby to sleep? When the Wise Men make it to the baby in Matthew they enter a “house.” Just sayin’
I know, I know, I’ll stop messing with the beautiful Christmas story. I’m writing for folks like myself who get hung up on the male Inn Keeper and Amy-Jill Levin who bemoans that the Inn Keeper is sometimes cast as a “nasty Jew”….we can just let all that go, because none… one more time for emphasis, none of that is written in the Gospels.
Baby Jesus was laid in a manger and the animal lover in me wants to go with the animals who would have come along with that. The word manger comes from the Latin word “manducare” which means to eat.
“ Mary places her baby where food is found; how appropriate, for this baby will late take the bread …. saying, ‘This is by body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ By placing Jesus in a manger, Luke is anticipating the communion story.” (Light of the World, Amy-Jill Levine.)
From an Emperor’s decree for the whole world, to a small scene around a feeding trough. From the manger to the communion table. The story expands and contracts before it breaks wide open at the cross and the empty tomb.
Grace and Peace at Advent