Christmas. Day 34: The Innkeeper

Christmas. Day 34: The Innkeeper

Opening Prayer. Make room in my heart, O Lord, for your Spirit.
By however means necessary. AMEN.

Scripture. Luke 2:7.

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.


Guest Rooms. From Rev. Daniel Harrell.

The nativity story makes no mention of an innkeeper or even an inn. Sure, the Greek word reads inn in every English translation, but as far as we can tell, no motels or bed-and-breakfasts existed anywhere in first century Palestine. There were lodging places akin to taverns, like where the Good Samaritan took the robbery victim in that famous parable, and of course brothels for Bad Samaritans, but the words for these sorts of place are totally different than what Luke described. In his Christmas story, the word Luke uses is be more accurately translated as a guest room.

The picture that should come to your mind is that of a small, crowded family home. Archaeology reveals the typical Jewish home of Jesus’ day as consisting of a single big room for sleeping with an anteroom that worked as storage or as a guest room for visitors, especially relatives. Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown, and Middle Eastern etiquette forbid his relatives from ever even thinking of turning away him and the pregnant Mary once she became Joseph’s wife. It’s like whenever we’ve traveled to my in-law’s small house on Cape Cod for the holidays. Despite ten other relatives piled into their little house with one bathroom, there’s no way my wife’s parents would ever have us staying anywhere else. That’d be shameful. The same for Joseph’s kinfolk in Bethlehem.

Because of the census that first Christmas, the guest room as well as the flat roof (where people could also sleep) were likely packed by the time Joseph came knocking. But Joseph was family, so his relatives immediately let him in, even though that meant Jesus being laid in a manger in the garage end of the house since that was all the room Joseph’s folks had left.

Christmas always comes at a bad time to a world in a bad way: pressed in on every side by fear and worry, by danger and distress, by sickness and sadness and loss. Our hearts fill with anxiety for our families and livelihood, for our kids and our country, and for the planet itself. There’s no room to move, no room to breathe, and yet every time, every Christmas, Jesus still squeezes in.


Questions for Reflection

  • Where has Christ made room in your life over this Christmas season?
  • Where might Christ be inviting you to make room for others?

Closing Prayer. Hear my prayers O Lord, for all who are without homes this day, without recourse and out of options. Make room in places yet unimagined, that grace as hospitality might provide rest and peace tonight. AMEN.