There isn’t an innkeeper in the Nativity story. Bible storytellers Paul, Mark, Matthew, and John do not even describe the moment of Jesus’ birth. And when Luke describes it, he says very little—using a mere 30 words! But tucked away in Luke’s concise passage is an aside, an explanation for the Holy Family bedding down in a stable. It reads “…because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
From these few words, generations of Bible readers have assumed that if there was no room for Mary and Joseph, then there must have been an innkeeper who told them!
Perhaps the seemingly throwaway comment that there was no room and the assumption that an innkeeper declined to help Mary and Joseph points to the importance of the waiting manger. The prophet Isaiah voiced God’s concern that, while animals know where to look to find what will sustain them, people seem unable to turn and see evidence of God’s desire for life-giving relationship. “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:2–3).
Or perhaps a harried innkeeper is not fully described 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 stark simplicity of this story we witness the plight of the most vulnerable of humanity. And we witness God’s choice to be present in the midst of them.
Or perhaps an innkeeper dropped into the story allows us to paint ourselves into the action. In every encounter with a stranger, we are given an opportunity to welcome God with a human face. Standing in the innkeeper’s sandals, we imagine ourselves face-to-face with the one who said “For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10).
- Why do you think we often include an innkeeper in our Christmas stories?
- How do you imagine an innkeeper? How would you describe this character?
- What do you like or dislike about this character?
- If you could use only 30 words to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, what words would you choose? Tweet your version using #AdventUnwrapped
- When you hear the Bible version of the events in the stable, where do you imagine yourself in the action?
- If a stranger knocked on our door asking for help, how would you respond?