Every artist has the feeling of being at home in his studio, every patriot at home in his own country, and every man at home in his house. One should therefore expect that the Creator would be at home in His own creation, and that God would be at home in the world He had made. And yet the most startling fact of human history is that when God came to earth, He was homeless at home. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (1 John 1:11) Ere yet the great portals of the flesh swung open, Mary and Joseph sought in vain for a place where might be born the One to whom the heavens and earth belonged. And so, when human history shall have written its last word in the scrolls of time, the saddest line of all will be “There was no room in the inn.” (2 Luke 2:7)
There was room in the inn for those who bore on their breasts the screaming eagles of Rome; there was room for the daughters of the rich merchants of the East; there was room for all clothed in fine purple and soft garments; there was room for everyone — except the foster-father and the mother of the One who was to bring redemption to the world.
And so, away from the inn and out to the stable they had to go, to a crude cave into which shepherds drove their flocks in storms. In that little haven, with manger beasts as companions, and at a central point between the three great civilizations of Memphis, Athens, and Rome, something happened — the only thing in the world that ever happened and mattered. That which happened was nothing less than Heaven being found on the earth as the cry of a God cried out in the cry of a Child.
A startling paradox indeed: When God came to earth, there was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. What lesson is hidden behind the inn and the stable?
What is an inn, but the gathering-place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the residence of the worldly, the rallying place of the fashionable and those who count in the management of the world’s affairs? What is a stable, but the place of outcasts, the refuge of beasts, and the shelter of the valueless, and therefore the symbol of those who in the eyes of public opinion do not count, and hence may be ignored as of no great value or moment? Anyone in the world would have expected to have found Divinity in an inn, but no one would have expected to have found it in a stable. Divinity, therefore, is always where you least expect to find it.
If, in those days, the stars of the heavens by some magic touch had folded themselves together as silver words and announced the birth of the Expected of the Nations, where would the world have gone in search of Him?
The world would have searched for the Babe in some palace by the Tiber, or in some gilded house of Athens, or in some inn of a great city where gathered the rich, the mighty, and the powerful ones of earth. They would not have been the least surprised to have found the newborn King of kings stretched out on a cradle of gold and surrounded by kings and philosophers paying to Him their tribute and obeisance.
But they would have been surprised to have discovered Him in a manger, laid on coarse straw and warmed by the breath of oxen, as if in atonement for the coldness of the hearts of men. No one would have expected that the One whose fingers could stop the turning of Arcturus would be smaller than the head of an ox; that He who could hurl the ball of fire into the heavens would one day be warmed by the breath of beasts; that He who could make a canopy of stars would be shielded from a stormy sky by the roof of a stable; or that He who made the earth as His future home would be homeless at home. No one would have expected to find Divinity in such a condition; but that is because Divinity is always where you least expect to find it.
This article is an excerpt from God’s World and Our Place in It by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on the inn and the stable: Detail of Am Abend vor Christi Geburt [On the Evening of Christ’s birth], Michael Rieser, 1869, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of God’s World and Our Place in It used with permission.
Read more Advent reflections from Sophia Institute Press by clicking HERE.