Luke implies that he was privy to Mary’s innermost thoughts but he must have had to miss bits out to get the whole nativity and childhood of Jesus into chapter two. Five days on the back of a donkey for a girl nine months pregnant deserves a fuller description, for instance.
Mary and Joseph probably travelled 80 miles through Samaria; hostile territory; no welcome there. She was an unmarried mother-to-be in a land where she could have been stoned to death just for that. Joseph had to take a couple of weeks off work to make the journey to Bethlehem without pay. As things turned out, he did not return to his carpenter’s shop for several years. Money must have been tight. Then the town was full; no beds. Labour pains coming on; desperation.
The stable, dirty and with eau-de-dung suffusing every breath, must have seemed like a port in a storm. It was not much to offer but it was enough; a little kindness that made such a difference.
I have met people over the years who have had a whole shedful of troubles on their shoulders, and I hear of more every day; people whose lives would be misery for me; people who have to care for relatives and loved ones, we sometimes only get to love them as we care for them of course; people in constant pain, some young, some old; people with very few resources, who cannot afford what I would consider to be the basics of life, let alone the luxuries that make my world go round.
So many, in fact, that it seems to me to be a reasonable bet that anyone I meet getting on a bus; trying to get through the same shop doorway at the same time; standing next to me on a train; they all have more problems than I have.
So, why am I so stingy with those little acts of kindness? Would it hurt me so much to offer a smile, my seat, or the way through the door before me? These little acts of kindness towards people who may be putting on a brave face, who may compensate by being brash or over confident, make so much difference.
And when people come into our church, or into any building or organisation, as strangers, why don’t I be more enthusiastic to appreciate them, to offer them friendship, to ask them for help? Yes, the best help I ever get in finding my way round a strange town is always from the least prepossessing person I can find; the group of hoodies, the single person from a different ethnic group, the person without a smile.
People long to receive acknowledgement, it may be something we give or appreciating some thing they can give. Anything, really, that acknowledges our common humanity, our common experience as dwellers on this Earth, our common heritage as children of God. I bet Mary was more grateful for that stable than Luke reveals.