The Innkeeper

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

My parents have a great story about being homeless on vacation. It was their 25th wedding anniversary, and they were visiting one of their favorite spots in the mountains of New Mexico. Wanting to embrace the “tramping” vibe, Dad suggested that they just stop for the night at whatever quaint New Mexico tourist town they happened to be in when night fell. After all, he reasoned, “How hard can it be to get a room around Red River in the summer?”  

Normally, it’s not hard at all, but that particular weekend, there was a biker rally in Red River — sort of a Sturgis of the south. And every single room was booked. 

Mom and Dad slept in their car. 

It wasn't bikers who had flooded Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. It was descendants of David, Israel’s most famous king. Like Mary and Joseph, they had come, as ordered, for the Roman census. And they had filled every inn, hostel, and spare room in town. 

It wouldn’t have taken much. The population of Bethlehem was probably about 300. Luke’s gospel says there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. Singular. And all the other travelers, being conveniently un-pregnant, got there first. 

The census may have been a hassle for all those travelers, but it was a boon for the innkeeper. Business had never been so good. He knew there were lots of descendants of David scattered around the country. We can imagine that as soon as he got the news about the census, he raised his rates. This was an opportunity he wasn’t going to miss. I wonder if he considered a pause in his price-gouging and profit-taking when Joseph stood at his door. 

“Is there anything you can do? We would be willing to share a room with someone else.” 

I wonder how 2,000 Christmases would have been different if the innkeeper had found a room, or a late cancellation, or some other way to accommodate this young couple. He had the chance to be a herald, the first of the faithful who opened the door to the Savior. But he missed the chance, and became nothing more than an un-named footnote in the Christmas story.

But of course, heaven knew that would happen. This wasn’t the first closed door Jesus would face. The savior of all humankind had to spend his first days separated from society, if for no other reason than the sheer poetry of it. The creator of the world had stepped into the world, and the world had sent him packing. In town because he was descended from a king, destined to reign as eternal king, the King of kings slept his first night with the pack mules. As John’s gospel put it, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The innkeeper was only a harbinger, a trendsetter, the first of millions who would turn Jesus away. 

Whatever place in your life Jesus is asking to come into, don’t turn him away. Not because you’ll thwart his purposes, or make him uncomfortable. You won’t. But because you’ll miss out on being part of a grand story. A story even better than the one my parents tell about sleeping in their car.