A children’s story from the perspective of the Innkeeper, based on the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem from the Bible.
From my youth, I had been taught God’s holy law, and read in the scrolls, to love your neighbor and do good to those of the household of faith. From Deuteronomy, “Hear O Israel, our God is one God.” From Micah, “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.” Ibzan, (Judg 12:10) my father, taught me that hospitality toward others brought a blessing on yourself. I wanted God to bless me, and I saw how He blessed my father and his inn. So I worked hard to save until I could open my own inn and provide hospitality for travelers.
We also knew that one day a Messiah was coming to restore Israel and save God’s people. My people longed for the day when He would arrive to save us. There had been fourteen generations since King David sat on the throne. And now the Romans occupied the land God had given us. They initiated a taxation requirement such that all men had to temporarily return to their city of ancestry. This created quite a strain for smaller towns without much extra housing available.
A woman in need
One day, as I was taking care of my guests and cleaning up the meal, there was a knock on my door. Outside was a young couple. The man asked if there was room for them in the Inn. I told them that every space was taken, but there might be room at one of the smaller houses in town. I didn’t recognize him. I asked about his ancestry, and he was a descendent of king David through Solomon’s royal line. Then I noticed that she was very large with a baby inside her. This woman obviously needed a place where the baby could be born, but where? I had no good alternative. The stable had a roof and some straw to lay on, but how could I put them there? It was hardly fit for birthing a baby. My inn had been prepared for guests, but the stable had not been cleaned up. It smelled of animals and feed, with smelly stalls. We had been busy in the inn with our guests and their many needs. My heart went out to her. While I wished to be able to provide a comfortable place for them to prepare and have some privacy, I had to accept that I could not properly meet her needs because of all my other guests who were already inside.
My choices were limited and unpleasant. I could try to oust one paying customer in the house to make a small place for her – probably causing arguments and lots of problems for my wife and family working the inn, or I could send them away to deliver the baby somewhere outside, or I could at least put them up in the stable. It was better than in the street. My gift of hospitality was aching. I wanted to help so badly, but had already committed my resources to others in need and found myself in an unpleasant situation. I was not pleased with the decision I had to make and the way this circumstance had caught me unprepared. Where was God’s help when I needed it? I really didn’t want to force them to live out in the open like shepherds, and if they were on the street, the soldiers who stayed in the old Philistine garrison (2 Sam 23:14) would treat them roughly, so the stable would have to do for now. It might also be a blessing to get away from the crowded Inn for a few minutes to tend to their needs and take them food out in the quiet peacefulness of the stable. I brought out some cloths we had available and some fresh water to help with the baby. It was very bright out tonight. After they were settled, I apologized again and told them to come to the inn if they needed anything else.
The next time I checked on them, the baby had arrived. I guess Joseph took care of everything by himself. They had wrapped the baby up in the cloths and had set it in the feeding trough. They seemed to be staring at the baby quite a bit. Not a bad looking kid, if you ask me. They said they were comfortable and didn’t need anything else right now. I talked with them briefly about moving into the inn after I arranged a place for them to sleep. Not long after the baby was born, a bunch of local shepherds ran excitedly into town looking for the stables, shouting about a baby. Had they heard about this woman and baby while out in the field? Were they related somehow? I never got to ask them because they wouldn’t stop talking nonsense about seeing angels and saying the Messiah had been born here in a manger, like that would ever happen. Besides the couple in my stable was just a poor humble family, nothing special. I’m sure the Messiah’s birth will be a spectacular event no one could miss. Sometimes the simple folk will believe anything. And the scrolls never mention anything about a stable.
Well, after discussing it with my wife and working it out with the other guests, I prepared to rectify the disservice to Mary and Joseph, and make room for them in the Inn. We couldn’t let them stay out there in the night air with a newborn. We all knew they would have to stay in Bethlehem for an extended duration while the Roman census takers travel to each town registering people. The baby was taken to the temple for dedication, a few days after his birth, as directed in God’s law. A short time later, our small town was surprised by a large group of travelers from a distant land. This band of people caused quite a stir and some uncertainty as to who they were and what their purpose was. Where would they stay, I thought? Where would they water their horses? All the houses were overflowing with people. They called themselves magi and said they were from the east.
The men gathered around the house and began to enter. Several of them looked very elegant and wealthy. What were they doing here? How will we respond to them? They were not aggressive, but searching. “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Some people smirked, thinking they definitely have the wrong place. Some looked at others dumbfounded. You think there is a king here in Bethlehem? Really? We’ve had several newborns in the last year, but this is a pretty small destination to find a king. Besides, we can’t have a king as long as the Romans are here. The question made the hair stand up on the neck of Joseph and Mary. Who were these men asking about the child? How did they know about His birth here in Bethlehem? Were they a threat? Should they speak up or stay quiet? The angel had not prepared them for this visit. Of course the shepherds were a surprise also, but had come to celebrate his birth. This group was different, but perhaps had the same purpose. How would they react to a toddler? I watched the men as they approached the child. Then they fell to the ground and worshipped Him, just like they were worshipping God. Joseph and Mary marveled. They laid gold and expensive gifts before him, like the kid was some special thing. It was rather awkward for all of us looking on, but I didn’t want to interfere and start trouble with them. Besides, I’d hate to be there when God brings judgment on them for stealing His glory and giving it to this kid.
Later, the magi left town, headed east. As the town began to return to normal, attention shifted to the child who was the focus of all this strange activity. I couldn’t believe the gold and gifts that were given to his family. I’ve never seen that much money! I think this could be a profitable arrangement if I could provide the services they need. That night I dreamed about what I could do for them and how God might bless me through this family. When I got up to begin my work in the inn the next morning, I was surprised to find their sleeping place was empty. I hurried out to the stable and saw their donkey was also gone. They had left in the night. This would present a problem if they met any soldiers on the road who questioned where they were going.
I wondered at the events surrounding their stay at my inn. It all seemed quite unusual and a bit strange the way everything happened. Soon the busy work of the inn pushed the events to the back of my mind. However, when soldiers arrived a few days later, they began insisting to know where all the boys were that had been born in the last two years. They were not looking for one child, but many; not the girls, but the boys; not the older ones but the youngest. We were unsure what the purpose of this was, but we were certain that it was not good, and we dreaded what lay in store for our families. The soldiers went from house to house looking for the boys. Then I heard the screams from each house in succession where they were found. I ran out to see what had happened. Families that I knew were suddenly grieving the loss of their infants and sons. This was madness, a nightmare. Why would the king order his soldiers to…. Then it struck me.
The shepherds ran through my town proclaiming the Messiah was born, yet I did not believe them. Then the magi from the east had come through Jerusalem asking about the king who was born. They arrived here and worshipped the small child in my inn! They believed he was a king! Now king Herod believes one of the boys born here is to become a king and has sent his soldiers to kill off any contenders! That’s just like Herod, insecure and afraid. But Joseph took his family away just a few nights ago! Did he know the soldiers were coming to do this? If so, why didn’t he say something? Was his baby really the Messiah? Could the Messiah have been born here in Bethlehem, in my own stable no less, and I missed it completely? I certainly didn’t expect it to happen like this.
What was the name? Joseph told me, but I was too busy thinking about my other guests to remember.
By Justin Ogden
Copyright December 15, 2014