Luke 2:1-7 NRSV In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 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.
The hospitality of innkeepers is legend. I suppose it is in the DNA of those who are led to open their homes and their rooms for habitation by strangers, and yet it is still surprising to me. In 2008 when Sarah and I and the boys arrived in Vienna after our very long over-night flight we were both very eager to begin our 48-day trek through Europe and very anxious about finding our way and being OK in all of these foreign places.
After navigating by plane, train, and a long way on foot, we finally arrived at our hotel. We confidently presented our reservations and waited. But there was a problem . . . The “inn” was “full.” The clerk pointed out to us in what must have been a well-rehearsed explanation that in the US we record our dates month/day/year. In Europe they order their dates day/month/year. Our reservations had the day and month reversed. We were “homeless” on the first night of our big adventure . . . I could feel my heart in my throat.
But that sweet, sweet angel of a clerk got busy. She told us to go get something to eat and come back in an hour. By the time we returned she had delicately talked a large group with multiple rooms into sharing a room so that the Langs could move into the newly created vacancy. The four of us piled into a room hardly large enough for the bed and collapsed in tired gratitude for the hospitality of a stranger who had compassion enough not to let us bear the cost of our own mistake.
You have to wonder about the Innkeeper who had Joseph and Mary arrive after all the rooms were taken. They were obviously poor (later Joseph and Mary would make the pauper’s offering in the Temple when they presented the infant for blessing), and they were really pregnant. What kind of fool takes his wife on such a trek when nine-months pregnant? Now Mary and Joseph’s problems would become the innkeeper’s problems. It was that or turn them away. And how could you turn them back out into the night?
The infant born that night in the stable-become-inn would later teach about compassion by telling a story in which a Samaritan rescued a man robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The Samaritan has often gotten the good press for that and perhaps that is as it should be. But there was also an innkeeper who was given a half-dead man and a coin and who was charged with his care until the Samaritan could return. Once again it is the innkeeper who rises to the occasion and finds space and compassion enough to care for those who arrive at the door.
Those of us who claim the child born in shelter provided by a compassionate innkeeper would do well to learn from the innkeepers among us because it is the calling of all who claim Christ to become the ones who embrace those who arrive, making room to care for them to God’s glory.
God whose love continually makes room for us in the “inn” of your compassion, we give thanks for your amazing grace. Help us today to make room for those whose needs are an inconvenience to us. Remind us of your great love and patience with us and our foibles so that we might be loving and patient with the foibles of those around us. In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.