Most of us will think of an inn as a place of hospitality, where we can go and spend some leisure time with friends or as a place where we may seek accommodation if we are away from home. They are places that represent the commercial interests of every age and community. From the earliest times, the role and service of the innkeeper and his family have been vital to the traveller on his journey.
The Biblical narrative in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke underlines the business of the inn for when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, they probably asked for accommodation at many inns only to hear that they were full. Sometimes the nativity story depicts the innkeeper as a cruel person who sent the heavily pregnant mother to shelter in the animal shed, whereas in fact he realised their desperate circumstance and offered a warm, if not comfortable, place to rest. No doubt he excused himself by saying that he could not ask those who had arrived earlier to vacate a room for the sake of a couple from the northern town of Nazareth. He had been kind to Joseph and Mary within the limitations that prevailed.
Christmas time in Cardiff, as indeed in the industrialised world, is portrayed as a colourful and vibrant period. The commercial interests and the civic authorities will have planned for the occasion, with vast amounts of money spent on advertising and celebrating. It is the bonanza period for many retailers, hoteliers and publishers, and even a little thought is given to those who are homeless at this time. No doubt the poor in our community despair of Yuletide, because it only underlines their poverty when they see the wealthy rejoice and make merry.
In poor countries, there isn’t any means of using rare resources for such merriment. Poverty remains a painful daily reality, and while most of us will eat far too much, the majority of people in the world will be hungry and powerless to change their circumstances. Just as Joseph and Mary were grateful to accept small mercies, the citizens of the poorest countries will be grateful for the brief references in church services and publications such as this one.
We are aware that the ten largest supermarkets in Britain enjoy collectively a greater turnover than the total gross national product of the 35 poorest countries in the world. Will we feel a sense of shame that our family spending this Christmas will exceed the annual income of many communities in the Third World? The positive side could be that we will seek to buy, wherever possible, fair traded goods such as those sold by Traidcraft representatives, which seek to ensure the highest possible income for those whose work produces these goods in the Third World.
The Bethlehem narrative underlines the obvious truth that Jesus identified himself with the poor and powerless, the humble and homeless, yet the rich wise men from faraway countries as well as the poor hillside shepherds nearby came to honour him in the cattle shed. There will be numerous people throughout the world this winter who will encourage each other within the circumstances of poverty, but will we be willing and able to offer support on behalf of the rich in the world. Christian Aid, Cafod, Tear Fund etc., are vehicles for our aid. Traidcraft goods offer us another means of achieving a similar goal.
May the angel chorus above the hills of Bethlehem encourage us in our praise of God, in our endeavours to establish peace on earth, and in being pro-active towards seeking a fair and just humanity.