Luke 2:1-7 & John 21:25
All of us have difficulties in our faith from time to time. Do we believe it all? Do we believe any of it, or only some of it?
The story of the first Christmas provides us with a few dilemmas that may create doubt in our belief.
The first occurs in this passage from Luke. Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus – 27BC to 14AD – and King Herod in Israel. But Herod died in 4BC. Quirinius only became the governor of Syria in 6AD.
The dates and ‘facts’ – as we might muse – don’t match up.
Sometimes we know we hold onto beliefs and find out that they are false. There is never any mention in Matthew’s gospel of there being ‘three’ wise men or magi visiting a new born Jesus. Yes, there were three gifts mentioned and we have configured the story from there. We think of that visit being to a newborn, after seeing King Herod. Yet Herod has all boys – up to two years killed in Bethlehem to find the child Messiah – yet in died in 4BC. If the wise men saw a two year old Jesus – it is now 2BC.
Likewise, we think we hear of the Innkeeper and his part in the story – but an innkeeper is never mentioned in the scriptures. Is it then a false belief – to believe there was an innkeeper – since it has become so much a part of our story?
What then of Jesus?
Doubt is a very human thing. It emanates from within ourselves when what we understand, anticipate, rationalise and assume does not align with what we experience. It is almost as if we have a circuit breaker switch that trips, when what doesn’t make sense, doesn’t become real.
It’s where faith, mystery, wonder and awe need to surface.
Was there an innkeeper? The Bible doesn’t say, but we can consider and wonder as long as we are not dogmatic about what is not overtly stated and written.
Remember these words from the end of John’s gospel.
‘Now there are many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books what would be written.’
Also we have all experienced the God who turns our expectations upside down. God, born of a lowly girl, the King of Kings, dependent upon those around him, the Creator of the universe submitting to the thorns, wood and the people he made.
The people of Israel – under King Herod, August Caesar and Governor Quirinius were expecting a Messiah – with legions of soldiers or angels or both to appear – fulfil their expectations and overthrow the oppressors. Jesus did overthrow them by pointing to a new world, a better way and submitting to the existing world while not being a part of it.
In this new reality, it is no wonder that so many missed the birth of Jesus – for what it really was. It created a dilemma for theirs and sometimes our belief systems.
We can infer that while the Bible does not mention an innkeeper – at the sold out shelter in Bethlehem, there would have been someone to open the door, interact with the pending parents of the Son of God – and point them to a stable – where room could be made for them to bed down for the night.
Again, we can wonder, but we don’t have specifics, as to the unnamed characters present on that night – seeing a star, taking a peek into the shed when the baby appeared, observing bewildered shepherds.
God’s sovereignty means he does just the right thing, in just the right way, at just the right time – for his glory and for our good.
The Innkeeper probably had no idea he was in keeping with the perfect timing of God from all eternity’s perspective.
And the fact that the inn was full and the stable was about to become a maternity ward was all part of the plan.
At least the innkeeper played a part in the plan. Somebody had space on the property and so Mary and Joseph were provided space to start the greatest rescue mission ever instituted.
Perhaps to it was the beginning of a resolution to his own dilemma of belief.
Remember that there is always more going on than we fully may realise, and that it is God’s plan more than ours.
So let’s all of us push aside doubt, decide – what is your little role in God’s master plan? And then act for the building of a new kingdom.
Just a postscript about the dilemma with Quirinius-the census, his governorship and the conflicting dates.
The verb tenses around the word ‘first’ in the original Greek are unclear- and can mean that there was another census prior to Quirinius becoming Governor.
This is not meant to be an easy solution to the dilemma of dates but it widens rather than lessens the parameters of possibility, as we too understand that God’s kingdom possibilities must be widened and added to our limited understanding.