A Bible Reading: Luke 2, 1, 3 - 7
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered… Everyone went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
This is such a familiar reading that it is easy to miss the enormity of what is actually going on. The context was brought home to me nine years ago. Our daughter, Anna, was in Addenbrookes Hospital awaiting major brain surgery the following day. I left the hospital late with my son-in-law, Darren, to stay overnight at the local Travelodge. However, when we arrived, we were informed despite what it said on the website, there were no vacant rooms. Already traumatised by the events of the previous twenty-four hours, we were sent away on foot, weary and anxious, in search of an alternative. Fortunately for us, we found accommodation in a small hotel half a mile further down the road. Never before have I been so grateful for a room in the inn.
But why were Mary and Joseph without a room? Admittedly everyone was returning to their hometown for the census, so undoubtedly Bethlehem was extra busy, but had Joseph forgotten to book ahead or just left booking too late? Joseph must have had family in Bethlehem, but none of them had volunteered a bed for the night either. Perhaps word had got around, that his young wife was expecting someone else’s baby, a crime for which Mary could have been stoned to death. And now to cap it all, the census had coincided with the due date for the baby’s arrival. We can only imagine the anxiety and sense of rising panic as the night grew darker and colder, and they were turned away again and again.
Posada (from Spanish ‘Las posadas’ meaning lodging or accommodation) is another Advent tradition, originating in Latin America over 400 years ago. Traditionally it is celebrated on the nine days from December 16th to 24th, representing the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. ‘Mary and Joseph’ (either live actors or specially crafted figures) travel from house to house looking for lodging. Some countries hold grand Posada pageants, but other celebrations can be simple and modest with Mary and Joseph travelling round households within a local community.
Despite the government regulations of our present time, we too have an opportunity to consciously prepare for the coming of the Christ-child. In these final days approaching Christmas, will we make room for Jesus? And when we are comfortable and cosy indoors, will we spare a thought for the homeless who remain outside in the cold?
May we follow the example of Mary and Joseph in their obedience to God, and may we make room for the coming of the Christ-child among us. Amen.