I was talking with someone the other day about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their “not-so-warm” reception when they arrived. I know there are a lot of explanations out there that say in with the animals was the best place to stay, but really? Doesn’t it seem a little more plausible that the emphasis on “no room at the inn” is there because it was a slap in the face that they didn’t get a room?
If everyone was returning to ancestral homes for the census, then Joseph (and Mary) had family in Bethlehem. Not only did they have family, but their extended family also was returning to the same town. Add to that the Middle Eastern reputation for hospitality (and there always being room for one more) and one can get the distinct picture that this couple was denied space with their family.
Shame. Mary was pregnant. Joseph was not yet living with her. One tradition even has Joseph being much older than Mary, so the pregnancy was most likely viewed as not involving Joseph at all (old or young, the timing was off). The family kept them out because Mary brought shame upon them. Then they had to go to an inn, most likely explain why their family would not take them in, and end up in the stable.
Is that not just the way God seems to work, turning things completely upside down? One of the greatest shames of all, being an unwed pregnant girl, is actually the most honoring event in the entire history of the universe, being the Mother of God! The rejection that Mary and Joseph faced from even their own family contrasted with the acceptance of all humanity by God.
As many of us travel this Christmas season, let us remember how Mary and Joseph’s family reacted to them, holiday family dynamics in the extreme. And let us be thankful that most of us will not have to deal with being rejected by our families.
For those that do experience that pain and rejection this time of year, perhaps the rest could figure out a way to turn that around and have it become a blessing for all. I am sure, if we look at examples from Scripture and our own Church history, it would not take long to come up with some solutions that would turn sorrow into joy, pain into celebration, and rejection into acceptance.