I saw this poster a couple of weeks ago. It is one of many that we see, often around the holidays. Many people read it and feel a sense of outrage at the inn keeper. Most of those same people identify themselves as someone who would have found room at their inn for a man and his heavily pregnant wife, had they been in his shoes those many years ago.
It is the same with the death of Christ and the persecution he and his followers suffered. People insist they would have followed him, they would have stood up and been counted. It is easy to talk about what we would have done, after the fact and all the outcomes are known. It is never quite as easy to make that same decision when the actual opportunity occupies the same moment as we do.
Christ championed the hated and despised of society. He spoke out for the prostitutes and the most hated tax collectors. He worked among the ill and the poorest and most unimportant of people. He was not sitting in an air conditioned expensive church admiring everyone’s new Christmas outfit or expounding on how blessed he was because of what he earned this year or the fact his child just got into an ivy league school. I don’t think as many of us as we would like to believe would have stood up at all.
Doing the right thing is often a cruel lonely road where others shun you, you can be in danger of being put in jail or worse, and it is hard work. No-one has a TV show where someone is rewarded with fame and money at the end because they won at being the most loving, kind and selfless in their service to mankind. Those people are the ones that are blocked and deleted off of facebook pages because their posts are annoying and they clutter the litany of selfies and pretty pics of the food you are eating or the fun you are having.
It is not just the innkeeper that denied Joseph and Mary. It was a small town. Other people would have seen them, would have known they were denied . . . no-one else stepped forward either. Not so different than it is today. We see need all around us and comfort ourselves that it is not our problem, as we turn our back and walk away to hurry and pick up just one more Christmas gift to add to the dozens already under the tree.
Just half the money most of us spend on gifts could change someone’s life.
We buy gifts for people who NEED nothing. We buy them things they neither like or want and will never use. But we don’t think about the people who need anything and everything.
So no, we are not all better than the inn keeper and no, most of us would not have found room for them anymore than we find room now for the people who are in need all around us right now. We care about the story of birth of Jesus because we know the ending and that he turned out to be the Savior. We are not willing to gamble wasting our time on a nobody in front of us, covered in dirt and grime and “sin.” We don’t because we are on our way to church, in our best clothes, where we will feel good about what a great person we are, sitting on the front row for everyone to see. We are too busy, too important and too close to Christ to worry about the millions of moms and dads and babies who have no place to stay through this cold winter night.
Compassion requires action and sacrifice and it carries risks. Dressing up to play the role of Christ’s beloved child is a play you are enacting for yourself. Just like no sane person assumes the actor playing a doctor in a television drama about a hospital, no-one believes that you are actually a Christian just because you play one in your daily life.
(Today not only is there no room at the “inn,” we are tearing down the “stables” that some people have found to try and survive. Do you have any idea what laws have been changed where you live? Is anyone allowed to feed the homeless in your community? Are their tents being torn down? Are they being driven out? Are we really that blind? Just because we look the other way or pretend not to see them does not remove our responsibility to care for one another.)