by Michelle Hindman It’s not as though I slammed the door in their faces. Over the years, I’ve developed a bad reputation, especially when I am played by the loudest child the pageants can find, who holler their big line: “No room!” That’s, of course, just before closing the inn door in front of the doe-eyed, docile Mary and her earnestly distraught husband. As they despairingly trudge away to the stable, the audience of this hyperbole wonders who can turn down God, let alone the clearly sacred, tired couple escorting Him.
I’ve been turned into a metaphor - a fate, I hope, you never experience. There is no space in our hearts for Christ! We make our lives too full! We miss the miracle and deny God entry! Well, certainly. But I did the best I could.
Yes, when I saw that swollen-bellied teenager and her shaggy spouse (at least, I hoped he was), I did not recognize Yahweh knocking. I was distracted, and I had always thought he preferred columns of fire, and the glittering temple, things more permanent, and more . . . expected from a god than a flea-bitten donkey and visitors scrambling for shelter.
There are rumors that the petulant gods of the Gentiles make pop quizzes of visiting mortals, disguised as stinking beggars, rewarding those who offer alms while smiting those who don’t into swans, or some other nonsense. And I suppose the lesson they take from that is to look carefully into everyone’s eyes to see if Zeus is lurking there and treat them accordingly. But it seems to me that those who have mountains and heavens and centuries of sex for themselves shouldn’t be bothering the poor shepherd, or whoever, about his last loaf and his wife.
Nevertheless, given all that talk about gods punishing, you can just about imagine my response when I found out I had given the true God of the universe, who demands not merely sacrifices, but ALL, the stable in the back. Perhaps there is some truth to the metaphor they’ve made of me.
I didn’t know that God had come. But I did know that I had nothing left to offer and I was honest about it, when they asked. My house was full to the brim with unexpected seas of visitors, and all of the most bitter, backbiting relatives too. My own meals were snatched up by grubby, entitled hands who didn’t ask, and I fought resentment, talked myself through the rules of entertaining, while I scrubbed the soiled sheets and skipped the wine to give others a second cup. By necessity, my feigned cheer had vanished into sternness, thinly veiling panic. I wasn’t prepared and I had no help.
I didn’t know that God had come. But I saw the weary step of her swollen ankles, his thin cloak thrown over her shoulders and I didn’t let them walk back into the night. Despite having one ear turned towards the children’s screams (to know when their play turned to turmoil, as it inevitably did), I managed to hear their question and scrounge up the tiny corner of kindness that was not completely worn out by the season. I did my best to shuffle the straw around, freshen the stale corners a bit with the cool desert air and brought in my last piece of clean linen to lay over the scummy stone.
And that, it seems, was enough. Not what I would want to have set out for a King, but who really has the right materials for that anyway? My best wine is too cheap and my most charming smile would still just barely mask my fear. But God made due, with the little I had left, and I’ll admit in looking back, my poor attitude. He did not punish me for the weariness that blinded me to the glory. He is not like the Gentile gods, who wring and extort worship from an already blood-drained, shaking world. He is a God satisfied to be, as the name they gave Him said, with us. Even our shabbiest hospitality is not shunned by a God so generous. His temple is our unswept corners and even our overburdened, unprepared hearts. No door can be shut to Him who comes and dwells among us.