There was no place at the inn
Of the Bible storytellers, only Luke describes the moment of Jesus’ birth. And tucked away in Luke’s concise passage is an aside—“because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7)—to explain the Holy Family seeking alternative shelter. From these few words, generations have assumed that if there was no room for Mary and Joseph, then there must have been an innkeeper who told them!
Perhaps the assumption of an innkeeper points to the importance of the waiting manger. Animals know where to find what will sustain them, said the prophet Isaiah, but people seem unable to turn to respond to God’s desire for relationship.
Perhaps the harried innkeeper is left undescribed in order to avoid distractions. Luke keeps it simple so we don’t miss the significance of the moment: love revealed in human form, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Or perhaps we turn our attention to imaginary innkeepers of the past so that we won’t have to face the outcast on our doorsteps today. In the simplicity of this story, we witness the plight of the most vulnerable of humanity. And we witness God’s choice to be present in their midst.
Perhaps dropping an innkeeper into the story allows us to paint ourselves in. Every encounter with a stranger is an opportunity to welcome God with a human face. Standing in the innkeeper’s sandals, imagine yourself face-to-face with the one who said “For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10). Ask yourself:
- How do you imagine the innkeeper? How would you describe this character?
- When you are told of the events in the stable, where do you imagine yourself in the action?
- If a stranger knocked on your door asking for help, how would you respond?
Explore the characters in the Christmas story:
And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.
—Robyn Brown-Hewitt, Atlantic School of Theology and United Church Chaplain at Dalhousie University