December 18, 2016

Will you please finish this sentence for me?

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in_______.” Luke 2:7 (KJV)

I know it may sound blasphemous to you, but it is quite possible that the church has gotten that one wrong since 1611, the year the Greek New Testament was translated into the King James English.

The word can be translated as “inn,” but that may not be the best translation of the word for this passage.

The Greek word Luke uses in this verse is “kataluma” (kat-al-00-mah). The other two times this word appears in the KJV, it is translated as guest chamber or guest room.

One of the times is when Jesus instructs his disciples to go and prepare the guest room of a house for the Passover meal where they share the Last Supper together.

Translating “kataluma” as a guest room paints a slightly different picture of the night Jesus was born and one that makes more sense.

Instead of coming into a city where they didn’t know anyone and having to knock on the door of a inn that was filled with strangers and no rooms left, Mary and Joseph likely had relatives in Bethlehem. After all, everyone was going back to places of family origin to be taxed.

A guest room would have been a part of a house. Mary and Joseph would likely have gone to a house of a relative only to discover that the guest room was full.

It could be that no one in the family was willing to give up a room for them. You would think that family would be kind enough to vacate a room for a nine-month pregnant woman.

But consider this. In those days, a woman giving birth was considered ritually unclean. Few of her relatives would have wanted to encounter her after she gave birth until her purification period was over so they would not have wanted her to give birth in their house.

So, Joseph and Mary, humble and tired, may have just asked to be bedded down in the back of the house where the animals were kept. So, when Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger.

While we usually point outward and say that the world refused Jesus because there was no room for him in the Inn, this bit of theological twist points back at us and may reveal a more convicting truth –that the most surprising place Jesus struggles to find room is in our own homes.

Angelus Silesius, a 17th-century poet wrote,
“Though Christ a thousand times/ In Bethlehem be born,

If he’s not born in thee/ Thy soul is still forlorn.”

Let me tell you that if you let that Guest into your inner sanctum,

even if you put him in the very back,
he will surely take over and
become the center of attention in due course.

Let me tell you what keeps even that from happening.
It has to do with SELF taking up too much room.

When we emphasize self and its desires, wants, and interests, it is to the detriment of Jesus and those he wants us to serve. We may not even be concerned whether there is a guest room, much less whether it is available.

Self does not care about hospitality. Self is not concerned about the needs of others.

Before we can ever make room for others, we first must learn the virtue of humility.

Without humility, we will not learn how to extend hospitality because we will be too full of ourselves to give any time to thinking about serving others.

C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” (Ibid)

The more we think of ourselves, the less room there is for others.

We can become so full of ourselves that there’s no room for it to reach anyone else. We can even get to an arrogant place where we believe that we do not need anyone else, especially those who are different from us, whether it be ethnically, economically, spiritually, politically, sexually, or culturally.

We can take the gospel and draw a circle around a certain group of people and pretend that group is the only group Jesus meant it for or meant us to reach.

In doing so, what we are doing is pushing Jesus to the back of the house or out of it and telling him that there still isn’t room for him in the main part of our lives.

But if that were to happen, Jesus might feel just like he was back in his birthplace or even in his hometown of Nazareth.

I refer you back to Jesus’ first sermon that he preached to his hometown people in the synagogue. They loved the first part of his message as he read from the scroll of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?

Why was it that they loved what he read and what he had to say? Because nothing he said caused them any need to expand room for others. Everything he had said up to that point was about them.

They were the poor. They were the brokenhearted. They were people who needed healing. They were the oppressed. They yearned for liberty.

And to think that Jesus, from right there in Nazareth, believed he was anointed by God to bring all of this to them. They could not believe that this was Joseph’s son.

But then Jesus expanded the circle.

Jesus used stories from their own scripture to show how God had touched the lives of foreigners, even the enemies of Israel, but that made no difference.

To the people of Nazareth, Jesus might as well have become the enemy himself when he asked them to make room in the kingdom of God for people that were different from them.

You will make enemies too if you attempt to do this, but this is the essence of the kingdom of God.
It is likely that many of the enemies you make will be those who claim to be religious. Need I remind you that some religious people can be mean.

Please notice this. Nearly all of Jesus’ enemies were religious. They did not like Jesus because he drew the circle larger to include people who needed God’s love and grace.

Jesus’ message was still one that demanded discipleship. However, he saw all people as works in progress and not as finished pieces of art.

One pastor has said that Jesus had a spirit of magnanimity. To be a magnanimous person is to make room, to accept unconditionally, to generously include, to be ‘large minded’ enough to tear down the barriers we erect to keep our organizations ‘pure.’ (

If anything, magnanimity dispels the fear of difference.
Look, there will always be people that are different. Diversity and pluralism will also be a part of our world. We can try to close off our lives to those different from us or we can make room for them.

If there is anything that makes us different, let us be grieved enough that we see that the world is already broken into enough factions and the Christian church is already splintered enough by those who refuse to have fellowship with one another.

If we are a people who claim one Lord, one faith and one baptism, we should not be a church that exists in isolation, judgment, suspicion and condemnation.

Instead, we learn from the early church that we have room for others.

They did not force the Gentile converts to become practicing Jews to become Christians, nor did the Jewish church cease to practice Jewish laws.

Even though it was hard for them, they made room for both in the church. They agreed to disagree. This kind of conflict resolution seems to be a lost art in both American politics and in the life of the church today. (Ibid)

Of course, if it is our goal to have the mind of Christ, it is difficult to have the same opinions or beliefs on every subject. But that does not it mean that our circles of relationships cannot grow larger rather than smaller. (Ibid)

John Wesley preached, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” (Sermon 39: “Catholic Spirit,” Wesley’s Complete Works).

An old rabbi was instructing his students, and he asked the question, ‘How do you know when night turns into day?’ One of his students offered, ‘When you look out into the field, and you can tell if the animal is a sheep or a dog.” The old rabbi shook his head.

Another student said, ‘Is it when you look at a tree and you can tell if the fruit is an orange or a fig?’ The old rabbi shook his head again.

‘You are both wrong,” he said. ‘Night turns into day when you look at a person and you know in your heart that the person is your brother or your sister.”

Has night turned into day for you?

Can you find room in your heart for others this Advent?

The Greek word “kataluma” teaches us that we have to make room for Jesus in our own house before we will ever find room for others.