The Inn Keeper

I think the innkeeper in the Christmas story gets a real bum rap sometimes. He is often portrayed as an unfeeling and unsympathetic grumpy man who slams the door in Joseph’s face for just politely asking for a room. Of course we are going to take travel weary and exhausted Mary and Joseph’s side because they are the heroes of the story to this point. Maybe, though, the innkeeper was in dire straights as well, let’s take a look.

An inn of ancient Israel was not a place where someone just left the light on for you, it was a place of refuge. When you entered the gates of a walled courtyard a traveler left behind the constant vigilance of scanning for bandits and wayside robbers. Animals were unpacked and led off to be lovingly fed and bedded down in the nearby stable. With a warm greeting and a bowl and towel to wash your feet the innkeeper would lead you to place to settle in for the night. A sizzling fire roasted the goat turning over it on a spit flanked by platters of fruit, figs and drink. The innkeeper was all about hospitality and service, his livelihood depended upon it.

This inn being in a small village was probably just a little mom and pop operation with its regular travelers plus the occasional person stopping by before furthering their pilgrimage. Each morning saw breakfast being served to the traveling salesmen packing their wares to hustle off to the marketplace. Just enough business for the innkeeper to keep his family fed and a roof over their heads. But, then, something out of the ordinary happens – Caesar Augustus the king of the occupying Roman forces decides that he wants to take a census and count all of his subjects. And, he doesn’t just send people around to count he declares that everyone has to return to their own home town to register with the census taker there. The whole country was on the move!

Can you imagine the innkeeper’s kitchen serving more meals than it was ever designed to, all of the rooms taken and people gratefully camping in the courtyard just to be inside the walls? He probably had to go to the temp agency to hire a part-time footwasher just to keep people from bunching up at the gate. And put yourself in the place of the reluctant travelers. They shuttered up businesses and left homes unprotected only to pack the family up to travel to another place just so they could register to pay more taxes. I am sure dads were on the camel saying things like “don’t make me come over this hump and give you something real to cry about!” Ever present was the Roman soldiers dressed in burnished armor, swords at their side and spears in hand, ready to prod along anyone clogging up the road. What kind of a mood do you think the foot soldiers were in being posted far from home in the brutal heat of the Judean countryside wearing an iron shirt while surly travelers looked at you with defiant stares? The mood was a powder keg.

Just as the inn gates are closing for the night a young desperate couple slips through the opening, the husband leading a heavy laden donkey. Perched among the belongings is his wife obviously in a state that will soon see this family of two become three. Approaching the overwhelmed harried Innkeeper Joseph inquires about a room. There just isn’t any and the innkeeper does not want to put a mother in labor out in the courtyard among the stressed out families packed in like refugees. He offers them the best of what he has left – the stable, a warm safe place of privacy where animals are dutifully tended. I can see the innkeeper hustling among the guests trying to settle everyone in with food, keeping fires going and calming disputes but stealing away from time to time checking on the young anxious family tucked in the stable waiting for the birth of their first child. The man really does get a bum rap.

Too often at Christmas we are more like the stressed out traveler than the innkeeper. We move from one Christmas event to the next, office parties, church gatherings, gift exchanges at both sides of the family, civic organization banquets, school plays and the big sales at the mall. We pack kids, presents and food shuttling from one happening to the next focused too often on getting through instead of enjoying the moment. Among this busyness I think we all miss opportunities for hospitality.  I encourage each of us to take a moment to rise above the busyness to notice those who God slips in among us who are desperate for a touch. All around us are those struggling to cope with circumstances of life and emotional upheaval just needing someone to steal away and lavish them with the best of what you have left. Save a little time, visit a neighbor bearing cookies or invite those without family to a meal. Consider having a group over to watch a Christmas movie and share some laughs sipping hot chocolate. Intentionally apply the words of Peter where he urges us to “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1Peter 4:8-10) Just keep in mind the innkeeper; though overwhelmed and busy he kept focused on the needs of others so that they may live life a bit better. He gave the best of what he had left to our savior. He definitely gets a bum rap.

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This daily devotion is written by John Key

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