(a Steve Orr scripture reflection)
The assignment was straightforward: write a few paragraphs on anything to do with Christmas. We could have written about presents, shopping, Santa Claus, family traditions, even religious themes...literally anything. There were no limits.
I wrote a poem about the Nativity.
Not only did Mrs. Rudolph let me get away with not writing paragraphs, she gave me an “A.” Then she had me read the poem to the rest of the class. You can read it below.
THE TIRED TRAVELERS
By Steve Orr
As the travelers journeyed across the land,
One would ride and one would stand.
One was weak and one was strong,
As they traveled the land that seemed so long.
In the village they asked for a place to sleep,
Something to drink, and something to eat.
“The rooms are filled!”
The innkeeper said,
But the night became so still,
. . . And dead,
He gave them the stable to lay their heads
And use of the straw to make their beds.
He would never know that in this place
Wise men would stand in a crowded space,
Then kneel and pray on the desert sand
To the Son of David and Savior of Man.
There was just one problem with that poem: I got it wrong, on almost every line.
Anyone who has become a parent knows that a pregnant woman is not weak. It’s also unlikely they were turned away from what we think of as an inn—more likely the already full guest room in a relative's house. The Gospel of Luke uses the same Greek word for “inn” 20 chapters later to refer to the upper room where Jesus and His disciples shared the Passover meal.
And the innkeeper? Fiction.
Jesus was laid in a manger, but that manger was almost certainly not in a stable. Or a barn. Or a cave. It was common practice to keep the animals on the lower floor of the house at night, safe from the elements—and thieves. The living quarters, and sleeping areas, were on the upper floor. Mary and Joseph likely passed the night among the livestock on the ground floor of the house.
I blew it with the wise men, too. The Biblical account makes it clear that the wise men came much later, certainly not that night. And it is quite clear that, when they did come, they met with Mary in a house, not in a stable. Or a barn. Or a cave.
No. The Bible says the night visitors that first night were shepherds who had been in the fields watching over their flocks. And that brings me to "the desert sand." Wrong. The shepherds had been tending their sheep out in a field, a field where sheep grazed—on growing things. The desert sands were far away.
I grew up among followers of Jesus. I was surrounded by Bibles. And I still got it wrong. Is it any wonder that Jesus' contemporaries sometimes misunderstood? We have the comfort of picturing all of it through the writings of the New Testament, something that didn't exist when Jesus was born.
But it doesn’t really matter if I got it wrong. It doesn’t really matter that we can’t know exactly what happened.
None of that matters.
What matters is that God responds to our misunderstandings with gentle instruction. We are all on a journey, a spiritual journey, wending our way across the landscape, slowly accumulating a better understanding than we had before.
It can take years, decades even.
We persevere, though—even when we, ourselves, are the tired travelers. Why? Because, what really matters is that God continues to draw us closer to Jesus,
the Son of David and Savior of all.