While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7)
Wednesday evening – at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church – I shared a “first person” reading from the point of view of the innkeeper from the Christmas story. You know, the guy who supposedly told Joseph and Mary, “There’s no room here. Go away!”
The monologue was from one of my favorite Presbyterian minister authors, Frederick Buechner. I enjoyed it so much I feel inspired to offer a “first-person” account of my own.
“They Call Me Nathan”
Let me share what happened when I was a much younger man, back at the time of the Roman Census:
They call me Nathan. I was named after my father, and his father before him. I’ve always had what they call “The Gift of Hospitality,” ever since I was a small child. My parents loved to tell stories about me offering food to guests, or sharing something to drink, from the time I could balance on my own two feet.
It’s always been natural for me to make room for strangers. And my wife, Ruth, she’s been of the same mind since the day we were betrothed. Eventually “doing hospitality together” became more than second nature, it became our business.
Back at the time of the census we’d been struggling to make ends meet; fact is, we still are! The problem – to be honest – has more to do with compassion than resources. We want to pay our own way in this world, and we want to have a little left over to share with others. But we can never find it in ourselves to turn people away; so I guess we end up doing the sharing before anything gets to be left over. No matter, it’s all the same to those in need.
NATHAN’S STABLE: That’s why I built possibly the nicest stable in Bethlehem. You know it’s not unusual for folk in these parts to keep animals in the house; but when you run an establishment like mine, well, it makes more sense to keep a courtyard between the barnyard and the guests!
So when we’re overrun with people, or when someone down on their luck just needs a safe place to rest their head, then Nathan’s Stable is always available – and it’s not bad quarters, even if you do have to share.
KNOW YOUR BIBLE! That’s exactly what happened with that nice young couple from Nazareth. Make note of the text for yourselves, friends, especially before you jump on the bandwagon of believing everything other people tell you about what the Good Book says. Read it! “Laid in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.”
- Nowhere does it read: “Mean innkeeper throws pregnant lady out on the street.”
- Nor does it say, “Hospitality void at the ‘out-of-shekels, out-of-luck’ motel!”
- I don’t see, “Heartless landlord, plus greed, plus expectant mother = rejection for desperate family,” anywhere in the text.
- And it certainly isn’t written, “Nathan the Innkeeper slams his door in the face of God!”
All they said was, “Please.” And when I sent them round to the stable with my boy, that Joseph fella thanked me warmly, and Mary offered just the smallest smile in my direction, and I felt a warm trickle of love all the way down to the bottom of my heart.
“Those folk are God’s children,” I said to my boy when he came back. “Don’t ever forget that, no matter who our guests are. God’s children deserve everything that we have to offer,” I told him. “So long as we have food at our table, and some safe space to sleep, then we’re in business.”
That Jesus went on to say pretty much the same thing 30-years later: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
“Members of my family.” Now that’s something to think about.