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The Innkeeper at Bethlehem

Every Christmas pageant must have an innkeeper. His part in the Christmas story appears at a critical moment. The suspense turns tragic as the famous innkeeper turns the pregnant couple away. At last he redeems himself somewhat by offering the shelter of his barn. Any child is proud to play this role in the pageant.

Interesting, it is not a role that is written in the real Christmas story containedin the Gospels. The only mention of the inn is the context of an explanationfor why Mary and Joseph placed Jesus in a manger. The Innkeeper has become popularfrom the dramatic retelling of the story, not from the Gospels.

How did Mary and Joseph end up outside of an inn and where the animals are kept?There were inns in the time that Jesus was born, but they were usually in largercities. Jesus Himself referred to an Innkeeper in the parable He told about theGood Samaritan. It is probable that no inn existed in the town of Bethlehem becauseit was such a small village. The term inn can be interpreted “a place oflodging,” thus it did not necessarily indicate a hotel type residence.In fact, an inn could be used to describe the way a caravan of people made lodgingtogether as they traveled. Their animals and belongings would be right besidethem as they settled up for the night, usually around a public well for safetyand convenience.

What kind of inn was it that offered no room for Mary and Joseph? It might havebeen that Mary and Joseph came to the home of one of their relatives, along withall the other relations who were required to travel to Bethlehem to registerfor the census. Perhaps they were offered hospitality and food, but when it cameto finding a private place to have a baby, their needs were unique from the otherswho had sought shelter. Perhaps they were sent out to the place the animals werekept in order to find the privacy they needed for the birth of their child. Themanger, the feeding trough for the animals, was a creative makeshift cradle forthe time they spent sleeping outside.

We must not conceive of the Innkeeper as an inhospitable, barely compassionatebrute. We must begin to look at him as a loving family member, offering the bestof convenience to his special relatives who had traveled a long distance. Thefact that there was no room in the inn was not an indication that Jesus wasn’twelcomed and wanted by the people in Bethlehem. Indeed, preparations were madefor His birth; even though they didn’t think of Him as their Savior, theythought of Him as their relative and they wanted to create the best environmentpossible for a birth to take place under the circumstances.

It makes me think about the readiness of my own heart. Have I made every preparationpossible to welcome Jesus into the home of my heart? Will I make whatever adjustmentsare necessary in order to give Him the best place possible in my thoughts, hopes,and dreams this Christmas? It seems Jesus’ relatives at the inn where Josephand Mary sought refuge made room for Jesus. What about you? Is there room forJesus in your Christmas season? Are you making whatever adjustments are necessaryfor Him to feel most welcome in your heart?


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