'Because there was no place for them in the inn'

Faith & Inspiration
by Andrée Seu Peterson

Posted on Thursday, December 25, 2014, at 8:11 am

The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 70 miles. The terrain is mountainous through Cana and barren wilderness from Jericho to Bethlehem. It is winter.

And after all that, when the wearied couple from northern Israel finally arrive in a village far from home and need a place to birth a child, they cannot find one, though other fellow travelers presumably have:

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7, ESV).

It is the very casualness and succinctness of Luke’s statement that strikes me. I want to dig in my heels like a mule at the period and wring more details out of the laconic author. I want a better explanation: “Why did the very Son of God sleep in a manger?” But Luke answers no more theological an answer than what he has just said already: The Son of God was born with cows “because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke’s answer is like any ordinary cause-and-effect answer to a question about why one thing happened and not another:

Then, changing the subject, Luke commences talking about shepherds in the fields, seemingly unaware of the theological bomb he has just dropped. We are asked to move along with him in the narrative and to leave the question. We are asked to take in stride that the Son of God may in fact be unable to obtain lodging when traveling as a tourist.

I believe this Lucan casualness, as it were, is precisely what God wants us to take away from the evangelist’s statement—as a lesson for us. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are like any other folks traveling through life, in the sense that they have to abide by common laws of cause and effect that govern us all. The family must surely have prayed for a room in the inn, right? And the answer to their prayer was “No.” And when the answer was no, they did the next thing, and a manger became available, and they took it.

The implications for my Christian life are deep. Just because I pray for a parking place along a busy street in Philadelphia on some afternoon doesn’t mean I am going to receive one—any more than Joseph and Mary received a room in the inn. I’m sure that first century couple prayed for a room, like I pray for a parking place. It evidently did not shake Joseph and Mary’s faith that God let them (of all people!) be left out in the cold. This taking in stride is why the author himself feels no need to make more of the mention. There are no guarantees. Prayers of righteous people are always effective (James 5:16) but not always in the way they expected.

Let us behold our newborn King, who not only took on the body of a man but eschewed celestial privilege and agreed to all the little quotidian laws of cause and effect. 

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.

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