More than a Quaint Tale
written by Rev Gary Heard

Two strangers wandered into town, searching for a place to rest their weary bones. They were clearly of little means, for they had no local contacts, and no means of booking ahead. Now their frustration grew as rejection compounded upon rejection, and the thought of sleeping under the stars in an inhospitable town became an ever-increasing possibility.  Growing desperate and mindful of the needs of his heavily pregnant wife, the husband who had yet to celebrate a first wedding anniversary pleaded with inn-keeper after inn-keeper for shelter. Finally he was offered a place amongst the animals, where his wife ultimately gave birth: a place and time which has been the pivot and focus of history for 2000 years. An event we still celebrate.

The standard Christmas fare for most Australians involves spending precious time with family and friends: socialising with those who are familiar. It is one of the great joys of this time of year to receive news of those with whom we have traveled, and perhaps been separated by distance or busyness. A significant percentage of Australians will spend time in church reflecting on the story which birthed the season. And yet…

It nags at me that the person whose birth we celebrate was born in isolation. None could make room in their home or inn, and were taken up with the clan reunions which brought Joseph and Mary back to Bethlehem. Jesus the Messiah was born, and people were too busy, or too engaged with familiar people to recognise these important strangers in their midst. Are we any different?

The shepherds left their flocks to see this stranger. Magi traveled a long distance. But those nearby remained blissfully unaware.

God who appears as the stranger. As the itinerant. A poor couple. In smelly lodgings.

To celebrate Christmas is not merely to remember a quaint tale of a birth long past, but to be reminded of the surprising ways in which God reveals Himself in the world: to be invited to look for  God in the unknown and unfamiliar. In a world full of strangers, there is ample opportunity to encounter the God who reveals himself in this way.

It was the writer to the Hebrews who enjoined his readers: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) One inn-keeper, in blissful ignorance, provided shelter to the most talked-about person in history. Will that same Jesus find a welcome from you this Christmas? I wonder what he’d look like…

December 19, 2004
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