The most familiar image of the birth of Christ Jesus which we celebrate is of a family that is a hapless victim of circumstances any which way you look at it.
A heavily pregnant Mary and Joseph would have not travelled anywhere in the winter and end up in a cattle-shed where she goes into labour — if they could help it.
Could they? Not as residents of Judea which was under the local king Herod who governed on behalf of imperial Rome. Being aliens in your homeland is norm under colonialism.
Which is why the expression No room in the inn we read in the Gospels is poignant and pregnant. It is to feel rejected, out of place and dehumanised with as much right as cattle.
God in the grand design to redeem humans and to linger among them (Emmanuel) as Counsellor and Prince of Peace, saved baby Jesus and set things up in fulfilment of the prophesies.
Christians for persisting with the message of salvation around the globe have annually retold the story of Jesus’ birth in that hamlet in what we know as Palestine and which many refer to as the Holy Land.
Think. Has there been in the seven decades since the scattered Jews were resettled in what their scriptures call the Promised Land, a more inopportune Christmas for celebration of any kind?
When Jesus was born, the Jews were not amused. Their scriptures foretold a King of the Jews and that threatened Herod (and the Romans) leading to all baby boys born around then being put to death in hopes Jesus will be among the dead.
Besides the disappointment that Jesus was no king who will lead the Jews out of political captivity of the Roman empire, he was challenging the social order held in place by the religious hierarchy. He was put to death.
What ensued since is history. A history of conquests for land which the Jews called theirs and disputed by other natives who adopted the Islamic religion. Native Christians were in the mix, but victims of circumstances.
Christian denominations in the region called the West Bank (which is one of the two halves of Palestine) have no Christmas celebrations when a deadly war rages in the other half and is also impacting their half.
There are no Christian pilgrims flocking from other parts of the world to celebrate Christmas in their Holy Land when the Jews and Arabs are fighting over their holy lands – Israel and Palestine – which all three religions claim to have a theological stake in.
There was no room for Jesus when he was to be born 2000 plus years ago. He was made to feel out of place. He said God is love. But would claimants for land and treasure in the name of possibly a same God pay heed?
That is the sad irony with which we remember Jesus and his birth this year. He came to bring peace on earth. What peace can we have when warring sides think that the annihilation of the other side is the only way to peace?
At this Christmas, as then, there is no room in the inn. It is too dangerous. But can we give Him room in our hearts. Unless love dwells in us, we cannot take in the displaced and rejected as Jesus was and is in many ways.
By John Thomas
Christ & Co’s Editorial Advisor John Thomas has nearly half a century’s experience working for media houses such as Reuters, AFP, Deccan Herald, The Statesman and Vijay Times. Frightened as a child by the story of Jacob wrestling the angel for a blessing, John keeps away from asking and lets himself be the means for someone’s prayer to be answered. His idol is Martha who does the house work, so Mary and Lazarus can stay at Jesus’ feet. John tries to be in real retirement, but his old journalism students prod him to be more than a media watcher. Connect with him here: https://twitter.com/JTbangalore