Believe it or not, I have been asked to play the "Innkeeper" in a "Night Before Christmas" pageant performed during an upcoming Sunday morning church service. My brief appearance in the pageant consists of only a half dozen lines (87 words), but I take my Thespian role call seriously. After all, I would not want to be out-performed by a cast of angelic characters, some of whom will be 70 years my junior...Would I?
Out of interest and in the name of authenticity, I have been thinking that it would behoove me to research the role of an Innkeeper during the time of the birth of the biblical Jesus. The Scriptures are silent about there even being an innkeeper, but we must assume that an inn would have someone in charge. The Bible is also silent about the character of this person but, again, we must make assumptions.
I am struck by the harsh reality that the coming King of Kings was turned away from the little town of Bethlehem's possibly only local lodging establishment. Certainly the unnamed innkeeper did not know that the as yet unborn Messiah had just shown up at his doorstep, but just what kind of person would turn away a pregnant woman who was well into labor? Sure, the inn was full of visiting guests, but was the Innkeeper so heartless? Was the guy really that cold hearted? In the end, he did offer the desperate couple shelter in his stable, didn't he?
Here is how I think the Innkeeper would explain the unusual and historical circumstances he found himself in that most famous of all nights.
So you want to hear THE STORY. You want to hear about the CHRIST CHILD. Am I right?
Well, I am the one to tell it to you, for it was I, the Innkeeper of Bethlehem, who was there to witness it all. And it was at my Inn that the Christ Child was born.
It was a cold and dark night. My wife Ramada and I were going to bed. She was mad at me again. The Ruler of Rome had declared a Census to be taken. Therefore, everyone had to go to his home village to be counted and taxed, so Bethlehem was full of people!
It was a very happy time, and a very sad time. It was happy, because my inn was full. There was no more room at all. It was sad, because I had to turn away so many cash customers.
It was happy, because I was charging triple rates and putting up three families in each room besides. It was sad, because at the end, a great, wealthy man and his wife had come and offered me more money than I could refuse, so I rented them our bedroom. This is why my wife was mad at me, for we were sleeping in the kitchen that night.
But she insisted, so I got up and ran across the courtyard barefoot, having misplaced my slippers. "What do you want, banging on my gate this time of night?" I yelled. "Please!" came the answer. "We have gone everywhere looking for a room. My wife is expecting a child any minute and we need a place to stay!"
I could plainly see the young man and his wife in the night, for some bright star was overhead and it was as light as a full moon outside. She was sitting on their donkey, and she may have already been in labor. I thought of their relatives and somehow I knew not to ask.
What to do? What to do? They needed some privacy, at least. But first, they needed to be out of the cold night air. Certainly no place to have a child! I found myself saying "I have a clean stable down below the hill behind the inn. You are welcome to use that."
Now, you will not tell on me, right? I did not take the young man's money. He tried to push it on me, but I refused. Besides, I had washed my hands for bed, and did not want to touch money. More than that, I did not wish to offend our God. I had no room for them in the inn, but at least I was not sending them out into the cold. How could I do otherwise? I just did not have anything else to offer them.
So they headed for the stable and I went back to bed.
I did not sleep long, however. Sometime in the early hours of that morning, a long time before sunrise, there was more pounding on my gate. My wife again insisted that I get up and answer it. By the nature of the noise and pounding, I knew they would not go away, whoever they were.
Indignant, I did get up again, but this time I looked for my slippers first and I put on my heavy coat before going to the gate. "What is it? Who are you banging on my gate this time of night!"
"Please. It is us. We are looking for your stable. Do you have one?"
Shepherds at my gate? Dirty shepherds! "Why are you not out on the hills with your sheep?" I asked them, indignantly.
"Angels sent us here," they replied. "We were out on the hills, and suddenly we were surrounded by thousands of Angels. They were singing and rejoicing and it was they who told us to come here. We are looking for the Christ Child!"
I was beyond amazement at this. Taking a lantern from the wall, I went with them down the winding path to my stables. I had to see this thing for myself!
It was as the shepherds had said. There in the stable was the young man and woman that I had sent there. In the woman's arms was a newborn babe, wrapped in strips of cloth, as is our custom to do.
Not a word was spoken. None needed to be said. The shepherds took off their hats and knelt down in worship before the child. I did the same...Me! The Innkeeper of Bethlehem. Never before had I seen such a sight as this, for the mother and child were beautiful and peaceful beyond description. It was as if God had come down into that humble place and we all were bowing before Him!
We did not stay long. After all, we were in the presence of Royalty and you don't linger there.
After the shepherds went back to their flocks, I went to my bed and tried to rouse my wife to tell her what I had seen, but she was in a deep sleep. You can know full well that early the next morning, even before sunrise, I was up and bringing the young couple some bread and cheese, along with what milk I could find.
I did not allow them to stay in that stable a minute longer than it took my wife and I the time to clean out our very own bedroom again. Our rich guest was unhappy to be put out at sunrise, but he gladly took back the cost of his room.
Then the little Lord Jesus, and his mother Mary, and her husband Joseph became our special guests at our Inn. The Inn of Bethlehem.
And you know, more than once I got to hold Him. The Christ Child! And I sat in wonder and awe that God should come among us as a tiny, helpless baby...
That's my story anyway, believe it or not.