Advent 20: The mysterious case of the inkeeper

OK – here comes one of my Christmas hobby horses: the Innkeeper.

I have written about him before (feel free to have a read). The hapless chap has no doubt been sermon fodder for plenty of preachers down through the years. Was he bad (because he didn’t make room in the inn for Mary, despite the fact that she was about to give birth)? Or was he halfway decent (because even though the inn was full up he allowed Mary to stay in the stable)?

You can see why preachers like him. He gives them the opportunity to challenge their Christmas congregations about the temptation to be like the innkeeper:

Will you tell Jesus that there is no room in your life?

It’s a good question, and one that everyone needs to consider.

However it seems that the reality was probably a little different. There probably was no innkeeper for the simple reason that there was no inn.

Without repeating everything I wrote about this before, the translators of our English Bible should probably have translated ‘guest room’ instead of inn. It’s more likely that Joseph and Mary turned up in Bethlehem hoping to find accommodation with some of Joseph’s relatives: after all Bethlehem is where Joseph was from. Nor do we need to imagine a scene of frantic searching for last minute rooms while Mary groaned with the pain of contractions! Luke simply says that while they were there’ it came time for her to give birth. We don’t know how long they had been in Bethlehem before the birth.

None of this, however, should take away from the fact of the stunningly simple and uncomfortable surroundings in which the birth of the Son of God took place. That God’s Son slept in an animal feeding trough is a challenge to those occasions when we have fumed because a busy train carriage has meant that we have had to stand, or because the TV remote wasn’t working properly in our hotel room, or because our flight was cancelled and we had to sit for four hours in a crowded airport!

A manger was his bed.

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