As thoughts start to turn towards Christmas with seasonal aisles appearing in stores, discussions about where (and with whom) to celebrate the big day and planning for purchasing a panoply of presents, I was struck once again by the relevance of the old story that has launched countless celebrations.
Over 2000 years ago, a young couple were forced to leave their hometown, travel many miles across difficult terrain and trust in the kindness of strangers for their accommodation. Yet, in Bethlehem, there was no room in any inn or house, even for a heavily pregnant woman, possibly starting to experience contractions and doubtless anxious to ensure the safe delivery of her first child. Mary and Joseph were not foreigners, but fellow-Jews who should (according to the Torah) have been treated with compassion: “love your neighbour, as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Despite their knowledge of God and religion, Bethlehem closed its doors and the Saviour was born in a stable.
What a sad indictment of our society’s reluctance to welcome refugees today. We seem to have so little time, concern or care for anyone outside our immediate circle. Whether we label this “compassion fatigue”, or human selfishness, we need to keep remembering the real message of Christmas. God coming down to earth, breaking into our lives, irrespective of the barriers we build, but still pleading with us to respond – to open our hearts to the outcast and the stranger. For when we welcome even the least of these, we invite in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 25:40).