One person not often seen in any nativity scene is the innkeeper. Often, he is portrayed as the bad guy who makes Mary and Joseph sleep out in a cave with animals. But I believe there is another side to that story. If the innkeeper were here, I wonder what he would say?
I run a profitable business. There are no tax problems, no accusations of fraud. I have nothing to be ashamed of so why am I so upset and confused? Maybe it’s because something has changed.
It all started on a cold, dark night. My little hotel-restaurant was packed with out-of-town customers. The mood of the crowd at first was dark with talk of rebellion. After all, no one likes being forced to travel just for a head count. None of us liked it but what could you do? So, the travelers came. Yet time, a few drinks and the opportunity to renew friendships lifted traveler’s spirits and the atmosphere soon became more festive.
Business was good, almost too good. All my rooms were filled, so people were forced to sleep in the streets. With so many people eating, our supplies of food and drink were critically low.
Later that night, two travelers approached my gate: a young man and a pregnant girl on a donkey. They both looked exhausted. The young man was polite enough. “Please, we have come a long way and need a room. Can you help us?”
I turned away many others without a thought but the look of panic in the man’s eyes and the young girl’s condition made me pause. “There must be somewhere I can put them.” But sadly, there was not, and I was forced to tell them so. “I’m sorry. There is no room in the inn.”
But something about the young woman’s face made me pause. She looked so calm and serene. “Wait a minute!” I blurted out. “There’s a stable around back with an empty stall. I can add a little fresh straw and you will at least have shelter.” Why was I so concerned about the welfare of this young couple?
After preparing their area, I left without even asking them for money. I helped a woman who needed a place to give birth. Why? What’s another baby in a world filled with babies? Why was this getting to me?
I remember losing myself in the business. It was a long night of providing drinks and food and even settling an argument or two. Late that night, exhausted, I stumbled to my own bed to catch an hour or two of rest. But I couldn’t sleep. I kept seeing those two faces: the man’s troubled and anxious, the woman’s, calm and serene.
“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the village inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
The frantic banging on the front door began just as I was finally falling asleep. One of the shepherds in a nearby field said, “You must come at once to see the child. She has sent for you.”
“It’s just a baby.” I shouted. “I’ve seen babies before.” But I was so wrong. “You’ve never seen a baby like this one!” the shepherd said. He pushed and pulled me, jabbering a wild tale about angels and light and music, until I found myself outside the cave.
More shepherds and a few animals surrounded Mary and Joseph. Then I noticed the child. He wasn’t crying, just quietly smiling and looking… at me. His eyes seemed able to see clear through to my very soul. How could this baby affect me so? Mary softly said to me, “Our people, the whole world, we’ve been waiting a long time for this little one. Thank you for making room for him.”
The shepherd who woke me said, “It is what I’ve been trying to tell you! The angels sang it for all of us: “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”
Something happened that night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a businessman, not a preacher but seeing that child has changed me, forever. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of thinking and praying about where my life is going. With God’s help, this is what I plan to do:
- Become more generous in my giving and look for opportunities to help others.
- Treat my employees with respect and pay what they earn, not what I can get by with.
- Maintain a stricter accounting of the books and with my customers.
- Spend more time at home with my wife and children.
- Go back to church and look for ways that I can become involved in ministry.
- Be in prayer for my family, for business, for others, for my pastor.
What about you? How will seeing the Christ-child effect you this year? I don’t know whether this Christmas will be a good one or a great one, a not so good one or even a terrible one but one thing I know for certain. Every time you see a manger scene. Every time you watch a nativity play being acted out. Every time you pass by a church and participate in a Christmas service, you can know and take comfort that every Christmas, good or bad.
Jesus Christ was born.
Jesus Christ lived among us.
Jesus Christ died for us.
Jesus Christ rose again and lives on.
Seeing the Christ-child in a manger surrounded by animals and shepherds changed this innkeeper forever. How will seeing Christ change you? I pray, this year you will see the Christ-child and be transformed! May God richly bless your journey of faith.