There Is A Place For You
The Christmas story holds endless fascination for us for many reasons. One of the characters who captures my imagination in this drama is the unnamed innkeeper.
As I see the movie playing in my head about this holy night, there are many thousands of folks on the roads of Judea that week, each returning to his or her hometown to be registered by the government for the census, as was the decree of the empire. Awful time for a pregnant woman to have to travel, but that was the law.
The trip from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem was over 60 miles, and took a number of days to travel. Mary was heavy with child and bone tired. Joseph had already approached several inns along the road that late afternoon, but they were all already full. No room. It was getting late and Mary couldn’t go much further.
The anonymous innkeeper of Luke’s immortal story sized up the situation instinctively. He too had no vacancy in his establishment, but instead of turning the young couple away, he performed a simple act of kindness: he made a place for them.
He asked the young couple to indulge him a few minutes. He disappeared to the stables where the livestock were boarded for the evening. He found one empty stall that he carefully swept. He placed fresh hay on the dirt floor. He cleared out a feed trough and lined it with the cleanest saddle blankets he could lay hold of. It wasn’t much, but it would be better than a cold hillside.
Then he led the holy family to the barn of Messiah birth.
He could have easily and perhaps justifiably gone about his business. He was stretched to capacity that night with so many guests, distracted by so many needs. But, in the midst of all the stress and demand of that fateful evening, he took the time. He made a place.
The biblical texts of course do not mention an innkeeper. And make only a singular and brief notation of an inn. But, in our imagination we see an individual of exceptional moral compassion and sensitivity, who employed a simple kindness that played a critical role in the arrival of the Christ child.
I see another scene in the movie in my head: Jesus’ mother and father telling him this story over and over again throughout his boyhood moral formation, about a stranger’s generosity that made his birth possible, a surprising provision on a cold night, and a Divine Providence so ingenious that it transformed the unlikeliest of persons into an angel of mercy.
There are angels dispatched for us from on high right now, if we have the cinematic and sanctified imagination to believe it. They are busy acting on our behalf, bringing about our good, transforming our circumstances of scarcity into interventions of abundance. They are clearing out the refuse, preparing what Hemingway piercingly described as that “clean, well-lighted place” we all long for.
Long no longer. It’s Christmas. In Jesus, God has made room.
There is a place for you.