Jesus was born homeless?

Several years ago a friend described celebrating the Seasons of the Church (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Lent and Easter) as “marking our lives by the life of Jesus.” Marking my life by the life of Jesus has become a core practice in my life; it keeps Jesus present on my mind and heart and my body present to the consequences of that knowledge.

Children have been teaching me how important it is in their lives too. I have learned that living into Good Friday and Holy Saturday makes a space for children to express their own pain and prepare for their own Easter resurrection bursting with hope.

I have the great honor to serve children as a spiritual director at Haven House. Haven House is a transitional facility for homeless families. We call our time together Holy Listening. A few weeks ago the children reminded me how important the Nativity story is to their lives.


Most of the time during Holy Listening I listen to the children’s experiences of God and how it intersects with their lives. I listen to their hopes, their pain, their thoughts and their stories. Every now and then I use wooden figures and we tell a Jesus story together. Then I give the children the toys and watch them play for a while. For this telling, we built a barn and a hotel out of old Jenga blocks. We positioned the animals in the barn, put the wise men some 3 yards away and loaded Mary on a donkey to begin the long, grueling journey.

When Mary gets within range of the barn and hotel she tells Joseph that Jesus is coming and he’s got to find her a spot to have this baby now! The children love this part. Many of them have younger siblings and they know the excitement of a new baby. Joseph kicks it into gear and leads the donkey and Mary to the hotel. He knocks and tells his story. “My wife,” “a baby,” “any room?” The answer is, “No.” “No room for you, no room for Mary, no room for Jesus.”

This touches the children somewhere deep where articulation hasn’t reached.

“Jesus was born homeless?”

When they are given a chance to play the story themselves they argue with the hotelkeeper, they beg and plead. One child blows up the hotel. Not at all surprising for children who have seen the news and feel angry about their own homelessness. They linger in this scene. 

Joseph does the best he can and leads Mary and the donkey to a barn, where she gives birth to Jesus. In the children’s version the animals help her. They lick the baby and breathe their “hot, stinky” breath on Jesus to keep him warm. In some versions the wise men show up and bring soup, pop tarts, and Big Red. (Party foods?)

For the least of these, even Jesus’s entry into the world is just what they need. Jesus shares their pain, their rejection, and their abandonment. (Phil. 2:7) In that they can share in his love, joy, peace and maybe pop tarts.