It was Christmas Eve. We’d gathered on our porch under the tall palm trees and starry Haitians sky with a dozen friends and neighbors. We’d shared a meal—rice and beans and all the fixings. The plates had been cleared away.
Someone said, “Let’s read the Christmas story.” We got out the Creole Bible and lit the kerosene lamps. One of our neighbors, a young man with a strong clear voice, read aloud the narrative of Jesus’ birth from the Gospel of Luke. Afterward everyone present, including the children, shared their thoughts on the story.
There were comments about Christ entering the world as a child, about Joseph and Mary’s faithfulness. Then the discussion began to focus on the phrase “There was no room for them in the inn,” as I recalled it from the traditional King James.
Except in the Creole version, it read “There was no place for them at the inn,” a light variation in translation that seems inconsequential. At least it did to me as I heard the verse read that night and understood it as I always have—that, literally, the inn was full with its No Vacancy sign flashing.
But our friends on the porch understood it a little differently. To them “no place” means that there was no place for someone like Mary in that inn. There was no place for a peasant woman who had just ridden in on a donkey from the nowheresville of Nazareth.
“If Mary and Joseph would have been wearing nice clothes and had lots of money,” mused one of the neighbors, a farmer, "there would have been a place for them. They would never have made her give birth with the animals.”
“Yes,” agreed someone else. “They would have treated them differently had they had money.”
Then the farmer spoke again: “And that’s just how it is for us too. If we tried to go to one of the good hospitals in town, there would be no place for us. If we tried to go to one of the hotels in town, they would see our clothes and shoes—and there wouldn’t be a place for us either.”
The conversation paused—a silence that acknowledged the truth of his words.
Then another friend spoke up: “But isn’t it amazing that our Lord chose to come to this Earth through a woman who had no place, who was given no place. And even more amazing, God came to Earth with good news to tell us: We do have a place! He came to tell us, ‘You have a place here as a child of God. And you have a place after this. In fact, right now my Father is preparing another place for you too.’”
Another pause. But this time it was a silence full of peace and of hope.
This week's front page features:
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers