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Every Christmas Eve service we heard: because there was no room for them at the inn.
Flashing hotel signs filled our minds as children. We might have imagined an overcrowded city or no place for Joseph and Mary because back then there were no call ahead reservations. For goodness sakes they rode to Bethlehem on a donkey; of course there were no phones.
We were misled. The New Revised Standard Version has updated their translation; now Luke 2:7 reads: because there was no place in the guest room.
Joseph’s extended family was from Bethlehem. They could have slept in someone’s home. The truth is his family wouldn't make room for them. They were unwanted. They were unmarried and expecting a child. They were a nuisance. A burden. An embarrassment.
No Room for family like that. No Room.
2,000 years later in cities and towns and villages across America there is still No Room. Let me be clear: There is physically PLENTY of room. The average size of a single family home in the U.S. is 2,273 square feet. There is more than enough physical room in America for everyone to have a place to call home.
It’s not really about square footage, which we have. Instead we won’t make room. We won’t make room in our hearts, our calendars, our legislation, our lives, or so many other pockets of our communities for those who need room.
I witnessed first hand this week that there is No Room for an abuse survivor trying their best to raise their family on an income less than their rent. Nothing in our city of Boston makes this possible. Instead it is a daily grind, a soul-depleting battle, an exhausting and unending trial.
I discovered early as a teenager that there was No Room for an outspoken young woman who called out sexual violence. We might congratulate ourselves these days for making room since the hashtag #metoo spread across social media in a week, but do not be deceived. Sexual violence remains rampant. We do not make room for the endless stories of sexual violence from date rape to incest that leave women less than whole.
In MOST churches across America No Room is made for LGBTQ+ people, women who desire ordination, teenagers transitioning, noisy children, doubters and questioners or God forbid someone who challenges authority.
At the church I serve in West Roxbury we are reminded weekly that many are unwilling to make room for food insecure neighbors parking on the streets waiting for their trunks to be filled with healthy food. Neighbors call the police regularly on our food pantry. There just is No Room for the hungry.
I learned first hand how our country makes No Room for undocumented immigrants. My dear friend killed himself after years and years of isolation and hiding, too afraid to drive a car, hoarding cash in his wallet for fear that at any moment ICE would rip him away from his family. Our country's Immigration and Naturalization Services had No Room for Carlos. The world lost a generous and truly kind man.
Sadly the list continues. There is No Room for refugees. No Room for the supposedly unpatriotic. No Room for educationally expensive children. No Room for returning citizens who have served their time and are trying to put their best foot forward. No Room for those struggling with addiction. No Room for the visibly poor.
The question we must ask ourselves this Christmas is a difficult one. Is there really No Room? Or are we unwilling to make room?
Let us all resolve to make room for all of God’s beloved people, and to be surprised by the new life that appears in that very big room.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.