And she 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.
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
January 1, 2023, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: “La Sagrada Familia” by Kelly Latimore
When Many years ago, I started collecting nativity scenes – both elaborate and simple, traditional and contemporary, from many different places. Some included the whole entourage of characters (shepherds, magi, angels, animals), and others just had Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Laying out these pieces of three-dimensional art that narrate this Christmas Story has become important to my Advent practices – almost as important as lighting my advent candles each week. They help me see the story of God coming to us.
As I read Luke’s narration of this story, there was something that struck me differently than it has in years past:
And she 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. (Luke 2:7)
There was no place. There was no place for this family. There was no place for God.
At the very beginning of God’s earthly life, God experiences this intense reality of non-belonging. And that’s not a trivial thing. On the famous hierarchy of needs, “belonging” is only eclipsed by the need to keep our physical bodies alive. And yet, God choreographed this universal wound of non-belonging right into his own origin story. We’ve all experienced times in life when we feel like the outsider. Maybe it’s with family, or friends, or at work, or in your church. No matter where it is, it hurts. A lot. God knows this pain.
For some people, non-belonging is a daily experience in their lives, built into the fabric of society. They can’t escape it. I work in a community where many gifted, talented, creative people, strong leaders with so much to offer, are implicitly considered “outliers” because of some integral part of who they are. As a woman of color, for decades I’ve heard comments like these:
We need more people of color in leadership.
We need more diversity.
We need more youth.
We need more women.
And I think the reason things haven’t changed more comes right back to our text for today: “There is no place.” As a society, we send the message in a million different ways, whether intentionally or not, “I’m sorry. Thank you for knocking. We wish we had space. But there’s just no room for you.”
The nativity narrative opens up a new way. We are invited to watch as God, in the form of a vulnerable infant, experiences rejection on our behalf. God knows our pain and exposes the source of our pain. God’s act serves both to show solidarity with us when we don’t belong and to remind us of who we are excluding when we don’t make room.
But most importantly, as the narrative unfolds, we discover that In Christ, we all belong. That as Emmanuel, God created a new community of belonging that is rooted in God’s coming to, and for, all of us – and abiding with us always. May this Advent season find us ready not just to receive this gift of radical belonging but also co-creating with God those same places of belonging for all others.
Dwelling Among Us
Where can you assist in creating a broader sense of belonging in your own community of faith?
What would it take to create a safe place for people to belong?