Advent on The Blog: The Innkeeper
“Missing a Miracle in the Midst of the Mundane”
Have you ever missed a miracle in the midst of the mundane?
It happens all the time. The Christmas story is full of miracles…unexpected in the midst of ordinary, mundane living. The Christmas story has many people who missed the Miracle…right at their own doorstep!
Consider the story of “the man who had no room” at his inn…and missed the miracle of the birth of the Son of God. The Bible doesn’t tell us his name…perhaps because he represents so many of us. Jesus is right at our doorstep, ready to bring His miraculous Life into ours…and in our distraction we miss Him!
Have you any room for Jesus?
“The Price Of A Room”
He sighed as he wiped his hands on a greasy towel. Too much to do, too little time to do it, he thought. Amos’ day, already too long, wasn’t finished yet. As innkeeper of Bethlehem’s only inn, he was a very public, very pressured and not always very popular man. He didn’t take pride his position at the moment.
Usually it wasn’t so bad. Bethlehem was just a small village high on a ridge a scant six miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. As such, it received little notice. Travelers normally made Bethlehem a last stopping place before the final leg of a journey ending in Jerusalem. The spotlight of political, economic and spiritual attention was always focused on Jerusalem, with Bethlehem barely noticed on the dim edges. For the great majority of people, Bethlehem rated little attention, if any. It was but an insignificant moon in the orbit of Jerusalem’s sun.
Although present day Bethlehem was of little consequence, its past once brought it prominence. Every Israelite knew the origins of their nation. Bethlehem had birthed some of the more well-known people in Jewish national history. Located near the village in one of the many caves that honeycombed the ridge Bethlehem was built on was the tomb of Rachel, wife of the patriarch Jacob. Ruth, the Moabite woman who became famous for her commitment to her mother-in-law when death took the men in their family, married Boaz of Bethlehem and raised a family there. Two generations later, the most famous of all people identified with Bethlehem, King David grew up, shepherding sheep in the surrounding hills as a boy. It was at Bethlehem that the prophet Samuel anointed David King of the nation. Bethlehem, which meant “House of Bread”, became known as “the city of David.” Micah the prophet even made a prediction about the little town, declaring it to be the place where God’s Messiah would be born:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small, too little to be listed among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient time...
He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.
And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.”
It was a powerful prediction at the time. The home town of the nation’s most famous shepherd king would be the birthplace of the King of the Universe! From the “shepherd’s hills” of little Bethlehem, One would emerge as a shepherd to an entire world. However, as the years, decades and centuries passed, both Bethlehem’s former glory and prophetic future faded until it receded into a sleepy village on the hilly outskirts of Jerusalem.
Until now. The politics of the region had always been volatile, and currently the Romans ruled the region, overseeing an uneasy peace. Unrest always simmered under the surface. The Romans had done much for the infrastructure of the land--building roads, aqueducts, and other public works projects. All of that came for a price. Taxes steadily consumed a growing portion of every family’s income...and where there are oppressive taxes, there are unhappy people. Still, there was little a person could do but pay the government and do the best he could with Roman leftovers. The most recent edict delivered in the name of Caesar Augustus mandated a census be taken of the entire inhabited world under Roman rule. Since the Jews identified themselves by the home towns of their families of origin, all the descendants of a particular family tree had to return to their roots and register. A census completion meant, of course, more tax collection.
Because Bethlehem was the ancestral hometown of the line of David, it meant a huge influx of travelers claiming royal blood in their veins flowed into the area, clogging every conceivable dwelling place. Every traveler, from far and near, needed a place to eat, rest and take care of their furry transportation. That made Amos such a sought after and stressed out man.
He sighed again as he looked over the courtyard of His inn. Like many in their land, it was a rectangular flat-roofed building of many small rooms opening to a courtyard in the middle. In the middle of the courtyard patrons all drew their water from a common well. Some of the small rooms had stalls in them for an animal to stay with the family. Sometimes people slept in the open courtyard if there was no vacancy anywhere else. Few could afford one of the better rooms. Amos allowed his customers to cook their own food over the fire in the courtyard, or provided meals for a price. Forage for the animals was also supplied. It was not a place with much privacy or comfort. It was primitive, but it was all Bethlehem had to offer a traveler with no friend or family to accommodate them. Amos and his family had but a small room of their own at the inn, yet it was home.
Amos had no chance to even be home in his small place since the caravans of travelers began to arrive. This was the week of census registration. And, he thought wryly, the week of my frustration. His name meant “burden bearer.” This week the burdens of his business weighed so heavily on him that he felt a sluggish sympathy with the staggering burro he saw this afternoon bearing a bulging man into his courtyard. He grimaced at the memory.
He did not pretend to understand all the political implications preceding the invasion of his inn, nor did he want to. His involvement with politics included only the banter he knew was expected of him as a genial host. Amos had too much to worry about without getting involved in politics or religion. He was not against Caesar or God, mind you, it was just that more immediate things demanded his attention. Amos caught the conversations around the fires as people reminisced about Bethlehem’s past. They speculated of Micah’s prophecies and reflected on the 400 years of divine silence since. No miracles. No messages from God. People yearned for freedom in a land ruled by Roman might. They hungered for peace in a time where the whim of a Roman ruler threw their world into upheaval. They wondered if God even knew their plight...did He still care? Would He ever send His Messiah to deliver them as He’d promised? Amos had joined in the conversations when he felt he was required to, but had mostly listened. The tone of these conversations, Amos noticed dimly, was different from the routine reports of people resting from a day on the road. A few wondered aloud if this great regathering of people to Bethlehem was more than just a Roman policy. Perhaps it was part of a greater plan of God. Such talk grabbed his attention briefly, but soon the request of another guest of the inn demanded his attention, and any God thoughts Amos had were gone.
Amos considered himself to be like many people. He wasn’t against God...he believed in Him and had a sense of respect for things spiritual, but he just never seemed to have enough time to really get serious about religion. There was an inn to run with guests to please, orders to fill, bills to pay, suppliers to work with...and something was always in need repair. Then there was his wife and children. His children were growing so fast! It seemed that he got to spend so little time with them. He and his wife worked hard together, but they were usually too busy to really spend the kind of time that makes a marriage strong and satisfying. Beyond that, there never seemed to be any time for Amos to enjoy just on himself. Amos bore plenty of burdens, and he felt he was doing well if he was getting through one day and into the next. Taking time to think about God was a luxury he could rarely afford. The urgent always seemed to crowd out the important. Occasionally, after a long day, Amos gazed up into a night sky with the stars twinkling down on him, and he wondered if a God that could make such a huge universe could care personally about an average working man like him. He even tried praying sometimes, and there were times when he felt a peculiar sense of....of a kind of peace. It felt good to try to tell God about what was on his mind, especially if things were tight and he needed help. Rarely, however, did he take time to listen to what God might say back to him.
The stars were twinkling down on him now, evidence that night had come to the inn at last. What a day! Every bit of available space was rented. The large courtyard was so full of people sleeping out in the open that it was hard to walk among them without stepping on someone. He had already turned many people away, leaving them to find their own food and lodging. He knew the majority of them would be sleeping in the fields surrounding the city and shivering in the winter air, but there was little he could do. He had too much to worry about without trying to deal with the problems of other people.
He stretched his arms above his head, trying to take the ache out of some of his overused muscles. His back was sore, his feet ached, his stomach was growling from not having time to eat, and he just wanted to get some rest. Tugging on his bushy beard, he rubbed his eyes as he gazed once more over the crowded scene in front of him. Some still sat up talking around the fires. Others tried to get some sleep, overcome by exhaustion from the exertion of the journey. He hoped there would be no squabbling over sleeping space like he had to deal with last night. Trying to play peacemaker to overtired patrons was a thankless and sleepless job. He couldn’t handle too many more nights like that. Silently he breathed a wishful prayer for things to remain peaceful. Turning toward his room, he trudged to his door and stepped inside.
His children were already sleeping. His wife wearily gave him some leftovers from the evening meal of bread, cheese and dried figs. Conversation was sparse, more from their fatigue than anything else. The dim light from their small lamp made the lines exhaustion had etched on their faces even more pronounced. With one more long sigh, Amos turned in for the night, leaving the greasy towel hanging on a peg by the doorway.
He had not been sleeping long (at least it felt like he had just shut his eyes) when he heard a tentative tapping at their doorway. The lure of sleep made everything inside of him want to turn over and ignore the knock. Maybe it and whoever it represented with another problem would go away. It was quiet for a moment. Then the knocking came again, a bit louder this time. His wife nudged him in the side with her elbow, being a lighter sleeper than him, and with a groan Amos rolled up to a sitting position and struggled to his feet. Still unsteady from being asleep he wobbled to the door and stepped out into the crisp night air.
What he saw caught him completely by surprise. In front of him stood a young man, and even in the moonlight Amos could tell he was barely twenty. It was obvious that the young man had been traveling all day from the dust that covered him and the weariness in his eyes. But there was something else in those eyes that drew Amos’ attention. There was a pleading look in the young man’s eyes that let Amos know he was encountering something out of the ordinary.
“Please, sir,” the young man’s voice was low but insistent. “My name is Joseph, and this is my wife Mary. We have been traveling five days from Nazareth....my wife is about to have a child...and the pains have begun.” As the young man spoke, he turned to look at where the gate opened into the courtyard just a few feet from Amos’ door. There at the gate, a young woman stood leaning against the side of a small burro. It was very obvious she was great with child. Her head hung down from sheer exhaustion, but when she heard her husband speak of her, she lifted her head to look up at Amos. In the moonlight he saw the face of a young woman who could not be much more than 15 or 16 years old. Her face was drawn, a light sheen of perspiration showing she was definitely in labor. She grimaced and bent over, breathing hard as another cramp came...and Amos could see the pleading in her eyes, too. It was obvious this young couple were new to entering parenthood. It was equally obvious they were in great need of help. In spite of the urgency of the situation, they were not in a panic, though. Somehow Amos got the feeling that they were being watched over in a way he could not describe.
“Please, sir”, the young man spoke again. “I know it is very late, but we must have a room, a place where my wife can give birth. We thank God that He has brought us safely this far...can you help us?”
Amos had been in a position to turn away many potential customers over the course of time, but this was a situation unlike any he had ever experienced. This young woman was about to give birth on his doorstep! His mind, dull with sleep just a moment ago, now swiftly tried to figure out what to do. He couldn’t have her out in the open courtyard...it would be too cold for her and too noisy for the others trying to sleep. There were no rooms available, that was for sure...
unless Amos gave them his room.
It would give them a safe, warm place to bring the child into the world. But what would he do with his family? It would be such an inconvenience to wake them all up, move them and get to sleep again, especially for the children. Wait a minute, his mind told him...there was another possibility.
Behind the inn, just down the hill, there was a cave. Hollowed out of the soft limestone by time, water, wind and human effort, it was big enough to be used as a stable. There were several animals there, but the cave would be somewhat warm from their heat, there would be fresh straw for use as a delivery bed, and there would be a measure of privacy.
It just might work.
The question was, for who?
Amos knew the best place for Joseph and Mary was in his own room. His wife could help with the delivery, he could take the children to her parent’s home, and he could sleep in the stable. The thought of a baby being born in a rocky barn was comforting. Surely this baby deserved to be born in a place better than the stable.
But to get his family up, to lose even more sleep trying to doze in the stable, to get the children dressed again...it was just too much of an inconvenience. He’d had too much stress already for one day, it would just be easier to put the couple in the barn, baby or no.
Mary groaned softly and bent over in pain as another contraction came. She looked at the two men, her eyes large. “Joseph,” she said, panting. “Please...the baby....” Joseph turned to look at Amos, again the pleading look on his face.
He had to choose. His room, or the stable? His heart told him the right thing, overruling his heart he shook his head and whispered, “I’m sorry. There is no room here at the inn. But...there is a place you can use. Wait just a moment.” Quickly Amos ducked back inside his home and grabbed the lamp. Lighting it, he led the couple with their burro down the hill to the stable. Standing before the entrance, he pointed inside and said, “It’s warm, dry, there is straw, and you will have some privacy. You can keep the lamp. I will bring you some water from the well....but this is the best I can do.”
Even as he said the words, Amos knew it wasn’t true, but he overruled his conscience. Joseph seemed greatly relieved and gripped Amos shoulder with a quiet gesture of thanks. Mary, moving as quickly as she could, took the cloak Joseph offered her and headed for a place to lay down in the straw. The baby would at least be born with a roof over his head.
When he finished bringing the couple a jug of water, Amos struggled slowly back up the hill to his own warm home and laid back down next to his sleeping wife. He did not go to sleep right away, though. He laid on his back staring up into the darkness. There had been something unusual about the whole incident, something he couldn’t place his finger on. What was it? Joseph mentioned God helping them on their journey. Did God have something to do with this more than he realized?
The prophecy of Micah flashed through his mind...could it be?
Not now. Not like this. A King would be born in a palace, not at a nondescript inn like his, and certainly not in a stable. Still...there was something more going on than met the natural eye. Amos pondered those possibilities, but then sleep overtook him again.
It was, he thought just as he drifted off, nice to be in his own bed.
While he slept, the greatest birth in human history took place just feet away from his home. The miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ could have taken place in his own home if he have chosen to allow it. But Amos missed the opportunity to see God do a miracle in his own life...a miracle as close as his own doorstep, but he had been too preoccupied to notice. His life was just so full there was no room for Jesus to be born there. Instead he gave Christ the little extra room he thought he could afford--not at the heart of his home and life, but out back and out of the way.
Life-changing choices are often disguised as ordinary decisions. Many people are like Amos, bearing life’s burdens, feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of trying to scrape by much less succeed in life. God is often much closer than we realize, if we’d take the time to notice Him at work right near us. He is waiting to bring us the miracle of spiritual birth, the supernatural wonder of seeing Jesus make Himself at home in our own life. Yes, it means changes that we may not initially think are convenient, but in the long time become indispensable. Yet, like Amos, we are so busy....too busy for the King of the Universe to take His rightful place on the throne of our hearts. We may not feel we opposing the Lord, but it is all too easy to allow other “urgent” things to be more important. They crowd the Master out of actively influencing our lives. In so choosing we show where our true loyalties lie. Often times the Lord comes to us in ways we do not expect. The nudge we feel in our hearts is the whisper of His Spirit beckoning us to discover the miracle just behind the mundane. Too often, our “reason”, frazzled by the rush of life, overrules the voice we hear speaking to our heart...and God is moved out back and out of the way again.
For Amos, the price of a room that Christmas eve cost him more than he could have ever realized. It was the price of missing out on the miracle of Christ’s birth and God’s best for Amos and his family. For us, the “price of a room” is also much more than we can ever humanly calculate. It is the price we pay when we choose not to open our hearts to Jesus Christ. It is the price of missing God’s best.
There’s Someone knocking at the door of your heart. Have you any room?