Image: “Hospitality Refused” by Jan Massys
Hospitality sits at the heart of the Christmas story. But that’s not a regular view in the varied school nativity plays we get to see so often – especially the Innkeeper! Sadly those ‘plays’ have lost a lot of the meaning of the original story – in great part due to the invention of the Innkeeper (yep – not mentioned in the Bible) from the poor translation in some traditional versions of Luke’s birth narrative. especially Chapter 2’s “laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (kataluma in Greek).
So, just to get it out there before we go any further – can I reaffirm a practical Biblical value (that I’ll come to explain below), as we approach Christmas again, that all of us at St Jude’s Church want to offer you the most Biblical, hospitable, welcome that we can! (See our Christmas gatherings here)
The central problem of thinking Jesus’ entry into this world was into an inhospitable one, is mistranslation of the Greek word “kataluma”. Here it often sits in some translations as “inn”. It is now oddly, and very firmly, fixed into all the cultural tales – so much so that we invented the inhospitable innkeeper in all those school nativity plays. The word simply means the guest room attached to the larger family room of a small middle eastern house.
That family space would often sit slightly higher than the animals area under the same roof so the mangers could be at the edge of the single living room and the animals can be kept a little separated, but still graze within the shelter of same building. (There is a Greek word for an inn where strangers could pay to be fed and have somewhere to sleep – “Pandocheion”. That occurs later in Luke in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). The other mention of kataluma is for the room used for the last supper (Luke 22:11).
It was into that family room, with mangers at its edge, that Joseph and Mary were welcomed as “there was no room for them in the kataluma”.the guest room – that was already occupied – but they were very welcome to join the family in their normal area. Bethlehem was already busy so the family’s spare guest room was already full. But all Joseph needed to mention were some of his family connections and the hospitality of their Bethlehem family meant they wouldn’t turn them away. They welcomed them fully into their family – because they were family.
I found myself pondering the similarity of Joseph and Mary’s welcome to the one we get from God in the Gospel.
For us, as we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, his relationship with us changes. While he will always be the second person of the Trinity, he also now becomes our brother. We are brought fully into the Father’s family, through our relationship with his son, our new brother, Jesus. We become adopted children and heirs. (see Romans 8:14-17 ) In my prior blog on the Father I wrote about how he can only love us and longs to welcome us back into the family when we stray. By asking Jesus to come through the door of our lives and be a part of it with us, we get that full access through Jesus to the Father and his love and grace. That’s the familial hospitality we get now, in this life, as we try to navigate the trials of the world. We can know we are safe within the support of the Father’s family. And on the last day, the one of judgement, when we can almost imagine standing in line with fear and trembling, knowing what our lives have encompassed, as we slowly move forward to stand face to face with Jesus… He then smiles, says our name and welcomes us as a brother welcomes another and shows us into the hospitality of our heavenly family home to meet all our other relatives.
Familial links and hospitality sit within the Gospel – the Good News that Jesus brought. And as we face outward to a world, it’s a world that God loved so much he gave Jesus for it. Therefore, while some of the world may not yet be brothers and sisters of Jesus, they are our brothers and sisters in humanity. As we reflect the likeness of our creator more and more, hospitality must surely rise to the surface. And as we practice it more and more, hopefully we will find it becomes that generous open handed nature that we found so compelling when we first recognise the grace of God’s open hand offered to us.
Do feel free to join us at any of our Christmas services this year – and may you and all your family have a happy – and hospitable – Christmas
(This post was edited by Tim Smith 13 November 2019)