by Terry M. Smith
No innkeeper refused a room to Joseph and Mary. The Greek word for the “inn” (KJV) used by Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:7 is not the same as the “inn” used by the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 (Dr. John Stafford). The former word can mean lodging or guest-chamber as well as inn; the latter means inn (Mounce and Mounce).
Stafford points out that if people were travelling to a home area, they would stay with family. If the guest room was already full, latecomers would share the space used by animals (K. E. Bailey and others).
What’s this mean? While the “innkeeper” didn’t exist, Jesus was, indeed, born in a humble setting used by animals.
It’s significant that Jesus was born in this setting. God sometimes seems to be invisible; at times, his works can seem difficult to locate and observe. Yet at Christmas we proclaim that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14)—the invisible God became visible!
Jesus is “the human face of God” (J. A. T. Robinson). To say this fully, we affirm Jesus as true God and true man. Augustine said he had read elsewhere of the Word (Logos), but never that “the Word became flesh” until St. John spoke of Jesus. Augustine (AD 354-430) followed our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
“No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12). Does this verse say that the invisible God is also revealed by how we Christians live? If so, may we this Advent season help travellers to see the invisible God who became visible.
For further study, see John Longhurst, “Exonerating that ‘mean old innkeeper,’” Canadian Mennonite (Dec. 21, 2009) and the article it draws upon: K. E. Bailey, “The Manger and the Inn: A Middle Eastern view of the birth story of Jesus,” Presbyterian Record (Dec. 21, 2006). This editorial is indebted to these writings.