By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“She gave birth to her first sone, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger—there was no room for them to stay in the inn.” — Luke 2:7
Pearl and I had the chance to visit and speak to churches while in Australia. One of the questions frequently asked during the interviews had something to do with the challenges of the Christian ministry that we are facing in our country today, especially in the area of theological education. I think one of the most important challenges that ministerial formation centers in our country are facing today is the challenge of preparing servants of God to be prophets and pastors at the same time. They have to be fully equipped to be courageous to proclaim the truth with love.
It is indeed ironic that sometimes it is quite difficult to be truly Christian in a Christian country. It is hard to stand up for truth if everybody is telling lies. It is almost impossible to be honest if everybody around us is corrupt. And worst of all, the Christian faith is used to cover that up or to make it appear good in the eyes of people or even of God.
There are lots of differences between Australia and the Philippines, culturally and physically. The people’s way of life is quite different from ours. They have so much land, but very little rain; while we have so much rain (and floods even), but very little land. They have large houses, but few people living inside these houses; while we have small houses, but so many people are cramped inside.
The common denominator is that we are all human beings, as David said. He was one among young Australians who came to the Philippines in July for exposure. We met him again in his own home church. This is where the partnership between and among various nationalities would come in: we have to partner with each other, because we are all human beings.
No room in the Inn
This reminds us of the story of Jesus’ birth. According to Luke, he was born in a manger, because there was “no room in the inn” (Lk. 2:1-7). Luke wrote in his Gospel, “(Mary) gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
But why there was no room in the inn? Biblical scholars and theologians had various speculations on this matter. Some are saying there might be a lot of people who had come home to Bethlehem at that time for the census. And so, all the inns were already filled up. But I would say that what happened was more of a social rejection.
First of all, Mary and Joseph came from Galilee, and at that time Judeans seemed to have negative attitudes against the Galileans. Galilee was the base of revolutionaries fighting against the Roman Empire.
Thus, coming from Galilee is like coming from a rebel-infested area today, where everyone is treated like a rebel-suspect. That is why there were comments later on about Jesus and his disciples like, “Is there anything good coming out of Galilee?”
Moreover, Mary and Joseph were not like King Herod and the Herodians – the powers-that-be in Galilee. Certainly, it would be different if the Herods were the ones looking for an inn in Bethlehem – there will be room for them, definitely!
Mary and Joseph were just ordinary couple. Perhaps, they would even look like they would not be able to pay the bills.
This reminds me of an incident sometime ago when Aetas from Zambales who were on exposure trip in Metro-Manila were not allowed to see the inside of Manila Hotel, simply because they were not wearing decent clothes!
Luke would interpret the story of Jesus’ birth in a manger theologically. It would mean that God in Jesus Christ identifies with the least in the world. God in Jesus Christ saves not only the Jews but also the Gentiles, not only the righteous but also the sinners, not only the rich but also the wretched poor.
Indeed, Christmas – the coming of God in Jesus Christ in the world – is an affirmation of God’s partnership with the world, which is the theological basis of any partnership between peoples, churches, and nations today. We identify with each other’s sufferings and hopes, because God in Jesus Christ has identified with us.
There is room in the inn for us
Unlike Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, there is a big “room in the inn” for us in Australia. We have been warmly and graciously welcomed by partners and friends into their homes. We stayed in big and beautiful Australian houses one after another, particularly in the weekends when we go around visiting churches.
For instance, we stayed this weekend in the house of Collin and Lindsay, sister and brother-in-law of Lynn, our host. Collin is a nurse and Lindsay is a freelance skilled carpenter. Their huge house was built in a large property. Inside the house is like a five-star hotel; in front, outside the house is a big beautiful fountain.
If a carpenter in Australia, like Lindsay, has a big mansion; how much more for the rich Australians! Lynn was saying that the rich would own many big and fancy houses and vacation homes. Then, I began to wonder how come in our country a skilled carpenter only have a shanty for a home. #