We are all familiar with the Christmas story… the factual account of the arrival of the Son of God on planet earth as a baby. But I would like you to ponder an aspect of the story that you have probably never considered.
Here’s the background: Only one man on earth had so much power that he could issue a command that affected everyone in the known world. That man was Caesar Augustus, the man who ruled the world from Rome.
Because he desired to tax the citizens of all the countries under his control, he needed a way to track every human within the realm. There were no birth certificates, social security numbers or computers in those days, and the people could easily have tried to dodge the census by slipping to another town nearby when the census taker came to town.
Therefore, Caesar decreed that everyone would have to return to their ancestral homes to register. (That way, family lines could be used to track any relatives who didn’t show up.)
This order went out to the entire Roman world.
With those facts in mind, I would like to share a thought with you that is profoundly disturbing.
What town did Joseph and Mary have to go to? Bethlehem, of course, because they were David’s descendants and Bethlehem was David’s town.
Whenever I have read this story, I have assumed that Joseph and Mary left their families and took this long journey to Bethlehem alone, only to suffer the apathy of strangers. Until recently, when it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t reading the story carefully enough.
This is where the story becomes really troubling. If imperial law said that all of the known world had to go back to their family’s home towns… and if Joseph had to go back to Bethlehem…
Where did Joseph’s own father have to go? (Obviously to Bethlehem, because he had the same bloodlines as his son Joseph) How about Joseph’s grandfather? His uncles? His cousins? His brothers?
In fact, many Bible scholars believe that Mary also came from thelineage of David, through a different family line. If that is true, then not only Joseph’s relatives, but Mary’s relatives also would have been required to show up in Bethlehem.
Do you see it yet? Guess whose scattered relatives filled that inn so full that they had to hang out the no vacancy sign?
Yes, Joseph and Mary were sent to the stable because their own blood relatives occupied all of the space in the inn!
I have come to believe that they were being shunned because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
The Scripture clearly tells us that Joseph himself thought that Mary had been with another man while engaged to him, and naturally their small village would have been filled with the rumors about Mary’s pregnancy. The scandal of her unwed pregnancy appears to have resulted in their own family members making no room for them, even with Mary so obviously near birth.
Can you imagine the pain of that heartless “shunning?” Jesus truly “came unto His own” on the day of His birth… came unto His own relatives, assembled from all over Israel in God’s timing, “but His own did not receive Him.”
That rejection would have left a mark on Mary and Joseph’s soul that affected them for the rest of their lives.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that many years later, when Jesus told a story about the heartbreaking neglect of a wounded man on the road to Jericho, his story concludes with a kind stranger (the Samaritan) who cared enough to get out his own wallet and pay to make sure that the wounded man had a room in the inn. “Treat your neighbors like that!” was the moral Jesus supplied.
What does this have to do with you and me? Simply this: Our communities are full of people who have been pushed to the margins. Those folks stand on the outside of society, longingly looking in, but there is no “room at the inn” for them.
Maybe the circumstances of their birth have caused others to reject them. For example, I have spent time with Hispanic brothers and sisters who wept at the rejection that they have experienced even though they were born here through no fault of their own, because of the “sins of their parents.”
In other cases, the people around us have made themselves outcasts among family members or friends through their own poor choices. Not only that, some of the suffering people around you this Christmas are outcasts from family members who have rejected them simply for choosing to follow Christ!
Right now as you are reading these words, Jesus is actively loving and seeking the outcasts in your own community. He would love you to join Him in opening your arms wide in order to love the strangers around you! Maybe there is a lonely widow you could invite over for Christmas cookies. Maybe you could take a gift to that neighbor that no one can seem to reach.
I want to challenge you this Christmas season: I would like every one of you to take at least one concrete step to throw open your life to an outcast. For Jesus sake, show someone that there is “room at your inn” for them. I believe that you could give no greater Christmas gift to Jesus than to love people for His sake who have been despised and rejected… just like He was. Whatever you do for the least of these, He will definitely consider that you have done it for Him!