We cast a whole bunch of shade at a particular character from the Christmas story, and I have a theory as to why; it’s the same reason conservative Christians love to focus on homosexuality as a sin. It’s a situation far enough removed from our own that we can see it as wrong. (I have some friends who think a lot of the people loudly arguing against homosexuality are denying their own homosexuality, but I think Joel Osteen is a good example of someone willing to condemn homosexuality which Jesus never talked about while preaching a subtle version of prosperity gospel that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus because he is removed from the humanity of LGBTQ folks but not removed from money.) Or, if you feel I shouldn’t be picking on a real life human being, it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen story The Garden of Paradise, where a prince has contempt for Adam and Eve for not skipping the apple when there was so much abundance to chose from (until his own Eden offers the guiles of a woman he shouldn’t pursue).
There’s a story from later in Jesus’ life that I think we need to bring to the Christmas story. It’s the story of the woman caught in adultery and the rock and the “whosover is without sin” and so forth. Cuz the innkeeper is an easy target, and we keep acting like we would all have kicked someone out of a room for the pregnant teenager and her woodworking boyfriend. Here’s what I’m talking about:
So let’s give the innkeeper the benefit of the doubt. His inn is packed out, people sardined into each room, not sure he has enough food for the breakfast buffet the next morning. I mean, he and the wife are already crashing on the couch because their room’s been taken over, and they’ve convinced the kids that a slumber party in the living room with sleeping bags on the floor is a fun adventure instead of the kids being displaced from their bedroom, too. So when Mary and Joseph and soon-to-be-Jesus show up, because he is a man with a heart, he gets really creative. He hooks them up with the only space left, humble as it is.
There were tons of other folks who didn’t get creative in finding ways to support strangers in need before they got to the one guy who DID help the holy family; we don’t pick on those other folks. (This is akin, in my experience, to those of us in the social justice movement who spend our time complaining about each other’s inadequate efforts instead of recognizing that there are a few folks doing absolutely nothing.)
I have a growing appreciation for the innkeeper these days as I think back on my 2014. The main reason I’m thinking about the innkeeper’s generosity is that this past spring, when I had to make a repair to a car friends had generously lent me and was grossly overcharged by a shady auto repair company, I suddenly didn’t have money for both housing and groceries.
And friends showed up.
- A friend in Sacramento sent me a check as soon as he got paid.
- A friend in Boston knew I couldn’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables and sent me a whole case of produce.
- A friend in Canada sent me really healthy tasty soup mixes and multigrain pancake mixes (which I am still eating and enjoying).
- College friends sent me fancy apples and pears and CHEESE (oh how I missed dairy products during that season).
- A friend who worked at a food bank snagged fresh fruits and veggies for me.
- The woman who runs the food pantry at the Oakland Peace Center grabbed me bags of food (including organic chicken and beef from Whole Foods, and that stuff was GOOD–I am so grateful that Whole Foods supports Project Darries, for real).
- Denominational leaders made sure to throw training and preaching gigs my way to get me through a rough patch.
- A local friend suggested a consulting opportunity for me and also introduced me to the possibility of AirBnB, which got me out of my financial crisis and also introduced me to amazing people from all over the world and a very dear friend that I still hang out with to this day.
- Friends took me out for meals and smoothies and drinks knowing I couldn’t pay and knowing it would be nice to have a meal that wasn’t lentils and rice.
People who had a lot gave a lot. People who didn’t have a lot…well, they got creative.
For the first time in almost a decade, I am looking at a year in front of me where I will be earning what for me is a lot of money — 2/3 of the Average Median Income for the Bay Area, not including any additional consulting or preaching income I get. Yesterday, I set up a few direct debits to my credit card each month so I can pay forward the overwhelming and beautiful generosity I experienced in 2014.
Christmas is something many of my friends keep in their hearts all year round.
I pray I may aspire to that same generosity, whether it be the generosity of a wealthy person or of an innkeeper, who gets creative in order to extend kindness to those in need even when it seems impossible. (Actually, less the generosity of a wealthy person. They seriously are not good at the helping-people-in-need stuff by and large, according to statistics. Merry Christmas to them anyhow.)
This is part of Sandhya’s twelve-part series on the values of Christmas, which actually spans the twelve days of 12/25 to 1/6 each year (although commercialism usually has us so burned out on Christmas by 12/25 that we pack it up in boxes on 12/26). If you would like to become a patron of the arts by supporting Sandhya’s writing, you can do so by visitinghttp://www.patreon.com/sandhya. She would be honored by your support.