In search of a stable…
I was just wondering: was there even a stable? We know there was “no room for them at the inn”.
In traditional Nativity stories, Mary and Joseph end up in a stable, or some sort of cave/hovel around the back of the inn where the inn-keeper‘s wife takes them. Then the ox and the ass lean inquisitively over their stall and have a look at the baby glowing in the hay-lined feeding trough.
But was there a stable? There was a manger – that’s pretty clear.
“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Later on the angel tells the shepherds:
“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” and then they “hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger.”
Okay, so there was a manger. Check.
Maybe there is some other obscure biblical reference that we get the stable from, but from the gospel of Luke, the shelter is just in our imaginations. Maybe we find it too hard to imagine having a baby outside, so we put a roof over its head.
In Glasgow this winter, everyone should have a roof over their head. Glasgow City Mission has teamed up with all sorts of similar charities and they have a night shelter open for the dead of winter. Anyone who finds himself or herself homeless need not sleep rough in our city.
I was saddened this week to meet a lady, about my age, sleeping rough in a local park. She was superficially just like me – but she decided that she would rather sleep out alone than go to any hostel or shelter.
Hers isn’t my story to tell, but I’m sad that, in late December, there is at least one person who has found their life so difficult than it is preferable to sleep outside than inside – and to feel that that is safer to be alone than in the company of others.
For many people 2012 has been a hard year. There are complex problems, complicated illnesses and treatments, financial hardship and difficult relationships. There are blanket solutions that solve some problems while generating more difficulties. There are good intentions and mixed outcomes. One size never seems to fit all.
At this point, like the ox or the ass, I am tempted to look down into the manger and see the glowing baby and (not like the ox and the ass) glibly say that He solves everything. And why not? “Emmanuel – God With Us!
“…good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord“
I actually do think that this blanket solution “works”. Although it’s not really a blanket solution, as such. There is no magic wand with Jesus; there are no quick fixes. There are still illnesses, there is still poverty, there is still death, there are still difficulties in relationships – so what hope is there with this baby in the manger?
Aside from eternal hope for a moment – Jesus offers us a way through this life: he is Emmanuel – God with us. He can “sympathise with our weaknesses”. He wept with those who mourned. We are encouraged to “bear one another’s burdens”; “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Each person who follows the example of Jesus should be there to help others through life, sympathising with weaknesses and being there: “with us”.
And so, following this pattern, over hundreds of years, such charities as Glasgow City Mission have emerged with practical help for those in need – with all different services to access.
But for some, although they know things are not good and that life isn’t working out, the solutions on offer don’t seem to appeal.
I can, believe it or not, see the appeal of sleeping out on one’s own – being self sufficient and free. There is something about us, though, that means that we don’t like to be helped when we think we can solve our own problems.
Which brings me back to this baby in the manger, not, as it turns out, necessarily, in a stable. He came to save us – and yet he came from a position of extreme vulnerability: displaced and exposed.
As a blanket solution to the world’s problems? It doesn’t look likely, superficially, – but on a person by person by person basis – in a “Pay It Forward” kind of way – I think it works. It certainly isn’t tidy, but neither is life. It works as long as the solutions that we look for are solutions about getting through life, rather than fixing it.
I’ll leave the ‘fixing it’ part for Easter, or another post at least.
I hope you and your family and friends have a good Christmas and that your celebrations contain “good news” and “great joy”. And if this year will be difficult, I hope you find a way through.