Ok I was only going to do one post about Christmas and homelessness but I have been really thinking about that family 2000 years ago. They were victims of the unseeing bureaucracy of an empire they lived on the edge of. They had to travel and register themselves. Joseph had a connection to Bethlehem and the Roman government said “you better get yourself there and register or else”, suppose we’re lucky in UK that local councils don’t say the same to folk asking for help with housing. That said I’ve been offered a bus ticket to anywhere before and had a different council redraw the map of UK to ensure they had a reason not to house me.
Anyway this is about Joseph and the lady he was engaged to but not married to yet and who was very obviously pregnant. To put this situation into perspective consider how unmarried mothers were locked up for years until very recently, in Joseph’s culture pregnant women who weren’t married was considered much worse than that! We are talking a culture where adultery meant risking being stoned to death.
So imagine your the landlord of the local hotel, hostel or inn and you are approached by a man and woman on a donkey and the woman who is so advanced in her pregnancy your wondering why she hasn’t given birth yet. It’s also likely that she has already gone into labour. Now without being too graphic human births are notorious for leaving a mess. There are lots of people arriving in town looking for rooms because of the census the oppressive Roman’s have demanded. Aren’t you likely to say sorry no room because you just don’t want the hassle and mess of a lady giving birth in one of your rooms, especially with all the people arriving looking for a room.
Just picture it a young couple with a lady on a donkey trying to hide the fact she was in labour looking for a place to stay and make a mess of by giving birth! Even without mobile phones that sort of hot news is going to travel fast. You can hear the “No Vacancy” signs going up all over Bethlehem can’t you.
Now I’m not attaching any blame or judgement to the people who decided to tell the couple there was no rooms available, probably most were telling the truth but human psychology has not changed and some things are the same the world over. Appoaching a landlord who decides not to rent to you because he doesn’t like the look of you is something I reckon most rental tenants know well especially if youve ever been homeless. Landlords all seem to think that it was an action that the person did that made them become homeless too much of a risk to rent to.
Who can tell if the last Innkeeper they approached had a full inn or not but at least he decided that he couldn’t leave this couple in the street. Prehaps he was scared what the Roman soldiers would do to the town’s temporary accommodation providers if a lady was forced to give birth in the street? Prehaps he just had a decent heart and really did have a full house?
He offered them the stable round the back substandard accomadation but better than nothing. Joseph and Mary were in a vulnerable position, they must of both been terrified the prospect of Mary giving birth in the street was very real. Did the Innkeeper take advantage and charge over the normal price for use of his stable? The Innkeeper could probably see that Joseph would of paid with the clothes off his back just to make sure Mary didn’t give birth in the street.
I really hope the Innkeeper was not the same as some of the landlords I’ve had. I could write a book on dodgy landlords from the one who tried to charge rent when the property was underwater after the town had flooded to the one who said I could move back in if I shared a bed. You see when people are desperate they are also vulnerable to abuse and exploitation which is why people on power trips are attracted to working with people in desperate need of something. Drug dealers also use their customers desperation to exploit and abuse addicts.
Joseph came from a good background he had a famous king as an ancestor. He was a honest man and as most people consider most people to be like themselves he was especially at risk of being ripped off in his desperation. Joseph could probably never imagine anyone would try to charge people rent when they had had to be rescued from the building by boat.
To the honest, decent, kindhearted person everyone else is honest, decent and kindhearted deep down it’s probably just circumstances that make them behave dishonestly. Likewise to angry dishonest people everyone else is just pretending to be nice they are really eaten up with anger and waiting to rip of others. I hope you can see how both the honest person and the dishonest person are 100% wrong.
However what really drove me to write this post was the amount of times Joseph must of knocked on doors asking for a room only to be turned away. Think about it he was a man in a culture where man had to look after women, he not quite wife yet was about to give birth sitting on a donkey, he must of felt completely inadequate, a failure, worthless. He would of had all the doubts and anxiety soon to be dad’s always have with the added extras I described in the first Homeless at Christmas post. How was he going to possibly be able to be any sort of a father when he couldn’t even protect Mary from giving birth in the street. Did his frustrations, self doubt and fear spill out at the Innkeeper who provided the stable? Did Joseph have to beg? What promises did Joseph make to the Innkeeper to ensure Mary didn’t give birth in the street? Or did he just give up, was it the turning away of a broken young man that broke a hard heart of an Innkeeper? We will never know but humans are humans and I’ve seen all of these emotion driven behaviours in people desperate to get housing. Desperate not to have to sleep outside and I know the defeated resignation of being turned giving up trying. Why bother asking for help when every time you’ve asked in the past you’ve been turned away. When every door you’ve tried is the wrong door you give up looking for doors to try.
That’s the thing Joseph was being excluded by Bethlehem prehaps it was like Edinburgh at festival time too many visitors for the number of beds prehaps it was because of fear of the birthing mess prehaps it was a mixture of too many factors to count but for Joseph the reasons were unimportant. Mary was in great danger of giving birth in the street and there seemed to be nothing he could do to stop this.
I can empathise with Joseph’s pain because I know what exclusion feels like. I was excluded from a Christmas Dinner laid on at a homeless service which has a monopoly on some basic facilities. My friends must of felt some of Joseph’s frustration when they were told they were just not allowed to take a meal to where I was sitting, reading a book just outside the door in the street. I can relate to how powerless Mary must of felt as she quietly sat in the background as Joseph got repeatedly turned away, they would of both seen and known the travellers who had managed to get a proper bed for the night. However my pain is nothing compared to the pain of those young soon to be parents.
I hope you liked this slightly different take on the reason for the season. I know I’ve never heard anyone talk about the Christmas story in quite such a blunt way before. Please let me know your thoughts on this young family. And please accept my apologies if you’ve tried to comment on one of my posts I’ve just changed my spam settings as I think comments may of been wrongly blocked.