The Arrival in Bethlehem
Luc Olivier Merson 1897
Read: Luke 2.7
And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In the school nativity plays the arrival in Bethlehem is often a major part of the story, complete with a series of innkeepers turning an increasingly desperate Mary and Joseph away. In fact the Bible doesn’t tell us that at all, simply that they travelled to Bethlehem and that, when the child was born, they had to lay him in a manger, because there was “no room at the inn”. Biblical commentators now believe that this refers to the guest room in a house – possibly one belonging to members of Joseph’s family, who weren’t able to offer them any better accommodation than the part of the house shared with the animals. So the tradition of seeing the people of Bethlehem as unwelcoming is probably not true to the Gospel writers intentions. It does sound, though, as if Jesus was born in overcrowded and far from idea accommodation. Luc Olivier Merson’s depiction of the scene shows Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem at night, seeking shelter. Mary sits on the ground, apparently unable to go any further. Joseph pleads with a woman through the window of her house for help. It is a scene reminiscent of the photos we have seen this year of the thousands of families fleeing Syria, slumped on the floors of railway stations with their children, desperately hoping for somewhere to lay their heads.
- We’d all like to think we would have given shelter to Mary and Joseph, but when it comes to real homeless people we are often less keen to help. What stops us helping?
- What could you do this Christmas to help those who are homeless? Check out charities like Shelter and Crisis for more information.