Is there room in the inn?
In the story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke we read that when Jesus was born, his mother cradled him in a manger, that is, a crib used to feed hay to livestock. The reason she did this was because “there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) In the ancient near east there were no hotels as you and I conceive of them. However, many homeowners did build a room on the second floor of their home to make room for guests who came from out of town. It was because of the government census that so many people had crowded into Bethlehem at that time that Joseph and Mary could not find a home with a vacant guest room. Others who had arrived earlier had occupied all the guest rooms in town. Mary and Joseph had to settle for camping outside with the livestock, something not uncommon in primitive societies.
There was no place for Jesus in Bethlehem at his birth. When he was a man, his own people could not find a place for him either. They turned him over to their enemies who tried to banish him forever from the world through a cruel death on a cross. There is great irony in this. Jesus, the man who had “no place to lay his head,” (Luke 9:58) started a revolution in showing hospitality. In John 21, we read that after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared on the shore of the lake. His disciples were out on the lake in a boat fishing. When they came ashore, Jesus was cooking breakfast for them on a fire. (John 21:9-12)
The challenge of hospitality is to find a place in our lives for people. It might be that your house or
apartment is small. You feel that your space is crowded. It might be that your schedule is crowded. You are too busy. You don’t have time for guests. It might be that your budget is tight. You cannot afford to feed other people. It might be that you are anxious about inviting people to your home because your home is in disarray. You are embarrassed about the mess. It might be that you don’t know how to make conversation with people, so you are anxious about inviting people into your living space.
There are many reasons we might be reluctant to show hospitality. Speaking for myself, I can tell you that my busy schedule often hinders me from practicing hospitality. I enjoy working, and I am sometimes afraid that if I invite people over to my home, I will not have time to get my work done. At times I feel socially awkward, so inviting people into my home may cause me discomfort. I need to work at making conversation with people, and that doesn’t always come naturally to me.
When good old friends arrive from out of town, we are always happy throw our doors wide open for them. It seems that we haven’t seen them forever. We love it. The minute they come in the door, a celebration begins. But this is not the case when the people who come into our home are strangers.
In the letter to the Hebrews we read “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2) My wife and I practice hospitality because we understand this is what God wants us to do. We keep at it to overcome our reluctance, misgivings and uneasiness.
A year ago, I headed out of town at a conference. I left a day or so before our daughter and son-in-law, who were visiting from Boston, flew home. My wife drove them to the airport for their flight. When they arrived at the airport they discovered that their flight to Boston had been delayed for quite a few hours. Laurie decided to stay at the airport with them until their plane departed.
While they were in a restaurant at the airport, they saw a woman with a head covering trying to find an outlet to charge her phone. While helping her to find the outlet, they learned she had just arrived from Egypt to attend the orientation for an international scholars’ program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She had arrived a day early only to learn that she could not be admitted into the dormitory until the following day. The office for international students was closed, so she was planning to spend the night in the airport.
After they chatted for some time, my daughter said to the woman, “You should go home for the night with my mother. She’s very friendly.” Laurie was a bit taken aback, but she knew it was the right thing, and invited the woman to come home with her.
That was on a Thursday night. On Friday after breakfast the woman asked Laurie whether there was a mosque nearby where she could attend the prayer service. Friday is the day of worship for Muslims. Laurie knew there is a mosque only a mile from our home. She had driven me there when I went to meet some of the men who worship there. They have been guests in our home. That’s why Laurie knew where to take her.
But she herself had never entered the mosque. She did not know whether she would be expected to cover her head as the Muslim women do. She went to the prayer service with her new friend, and was startled to learn that Muslim women sit on the floor behind a divider in worship so that they cannot see the men and the worship leader.
This was an uncommon event for Laurie. It caused her to stretch, but she was able to stretch because we often invite people from other countries we know to visit our home. Her new Egyptian friend stayed just a couple days, but they have remained in touch after more than a year, and they hope to see one another again.
Practicing hospitality will cause you to stretch and all the members of your household to stretch. This kind of stretching helps us to become more like Jesus. The basic question we need to ask ourselves is this: Can I find room for another person in my life? Can we find room for others in our lives? This is the challenge of hospitality.
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I love the story of how God brought the new Egyptian friend to Laurie! This was the moment when she knew she couldn’t have arranged things the way circumstances worked to meet a felt need. Then she had the opportunity to reach out….and she did! I have experienced those “divine appointments” and feel so grateful for them. But there are also the times that we are called to reach out from our own initiative. Those times are more easily ignored if we live our lives in busy mode! Best to live with margin so that hospitality can happen. Relationships take time. There is no hospitality on the run! Thanks for this great reminder to make room, Donald!