THE INNKEEPER'S NIGHT
Rev. Timothy W. Ayers
Peace United Church of Christ
Last call. Kitchen is closing in 5 minutes. Last call for food and drinks.
This has been such a hectic day. Travelers have been flowing in for something to eat or something to drink all day long. One sojourner after another. Full families and men traveling alone. It has been quite a day. Most people were grumbling about Caesar Augustus' decision to take a census. I don't blame them. Folks had to uproot themselves, load their donkeys and camels then walk the dusty roads to the home of their ancestors to register. Oh, they grumbled and moaned. They even complained about the food. Now that irked me.
My poor wife spent her entire day in the kitchen. I must have butchered four lambs by the days end. Trust me I raise a good, meaty lamb and she cooks a good lamb stew. She is a good woman. She wastes nothing on that lamb. My personal favorite is the lamb's head. Her recipe is so very tasty. I could eat it all day long. Of course, I know what you are thinking. I look like I did eat it all day long.
My wife is a good woman. She is healthy and strong. She gave me two beautiful children. Those two are asleep in the kitchen. They gave up their rooms so we could house more travelers in our inn. Now, I am at the capacity that I can host in this old house.
This is a big home by Bethlehem standards. My wife's father gave it to her. He was a wealthy merchant in the village. In order to pay the roman taxes and do some expansion we turned this home into an inn. And the census has turned it into a real shekel maker. This is the third day of full capacity. A few travelers have put up tents next to the stream. They seem quite comfortable and of little concern to me. I even put one young couple in the stable. It is warmer and the hay is soft so I didn't feel badly. It is certainly safer.
Many of my guests drink too much and a few are here to see if they can lift the tax money from the bags of god-fearing, innocent couples. The stable is a safe place and private. Trust me, this girl needed some privacy and rest. She was great with child. I mean really great with child. I wouldn't be surprised if she gave birth this very night. She had such a sweet look to her face even though I could tell that this journey had taken a toll on her. She looked exhausted. That's why I put them in the stable. I knew all the other inns and fields were filled and I could remember how tired my wife was as she was large with our first boy.
Call me an old softy. I could even identify with the husband. He looked weary. He had walked while she rode the donkey. I could see the blisters on his feet. It had been many miles since he had rested. But when Caesar orders a census, the entire republic must obey. I have to give Caesar Augustus credit though. If he knew how many people were part of the empire then he could tax us accordingly and by taxing us he could build a great army and roman roads that stretched to the ends of the empire. Although, I can't quite call the road that brings you to my inn a good roman road. It is dirty and dusty. That's one of the reasons I felt bad for this young father-to-be. Both of them were exhausted.
I settled the couple into the stable then went back later with two bowls of steaming, hot lamb stew and some bread and some wine. We talked for a few minutes but I needed to get back to my other guests. They two had been traveling for a few days. Joseph, the man, was very attentive to Mary the girl's needs. He piled hay to make a comfortable place for her to sleep. I could tell though from the anguish on her face that the labor pains were already starting. When I went back inside and told my wife about the young girl, she took out water and gathered up some swaddling used to bandage the legs of our animals. They were clean so they would be good to use.
My wife returned with a huge smile on her face. She was jabbering away about how she felt the hand of God on the young girl. My wife is the spiritual one of the two of us. I had not been to a temple or a synagogue in many years. I didn't see much use in it but she did. My two children are raised as good Jews by a good Jewish mother. I always said that I couldn't be too heavenly-minded or I would be no earthly good. My job was to run an inn and make the money needed. I didn't have time for God. Then again, God probably didn't have time for me. Don't get me wrong, if He ever came to my inn, I would welcome him and give him the best room in the house and the finest of our lambs. If God ever visited me then I would take the time to be a proper host.
I'm sorry, that is silliness talking. We Jews have been waiting for many, many, many years for the Messiah to come and I can assure you that when He comes it won't be to a little town called Bethlehem and certainly not to my inn. The Messiah would come as a King. He would have a priestly entourage and wear glorious garments. I told my wife that. You know what she said, “Or as a baby born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes.” I laughed. That was more silliness and I didn't have time for silliness. I had guests to feed and wine caskets to tap and of course, lots of money to make.
The night eventually slowed down. Guests were asleep and my family wearily laid down their heads. I was closing the window shutters to try and keep the fireplace heat inside when I noticed that the night had grown bright on the hills where the shepherds watched over their flocks. The night was clear and the stars seemed brighter than ever. I had never seen the moon brighten the sky like that but most nights I was asleep by dark. The sky shimmered. The light danced much like the time I had traveled north and saw the ice that fell from the sky. The sky shimmered is the only way to describe it. I stood for a long time until figures came trailing down the hill framed by the dancing light. I recognized the men approaching the inn. It was the shepherds that worked the pastures nearby. By this time they were usually in their bed rolls surrounding their flocks. But not this night.
The shepherds walked by the inn. I was curious and stepped out my front door. I watched them all enter the stable. I could hear them praising God but I had no idea how God and my smelly stable would produce such praise. A teenage boy, a young shepherd, was running to catch up to the others. I stopped him.
“Boy, what is going on? Why are you and your fellow shepherds going into my stable?”
He grinned at me and said, “An angel of the Lord appeared to us, and the glory of the Lord shone around us, and we were terrified. But the angel said to us, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'” Once the angels had left us and gone into I guess it was heaven, then our eldest shepherd Gamaliel said to us, 'Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about . So we hurried off”
I scratched my head. I wondered what kind of wine they had been drinking. The Messiah would never come in this way and certainly not to my stable, at my inn, definitely not to Bethlehem and absolutely not to a bunch of unwashed, smelly shepherds.
I shooed the boy along and entered back into the inn. I had a guest looking for another cup of wine. I didn't have time for all this Messiah talk and praising God. I had to make a living. I had an inn to run. I am a very busy man and don't have time for silliness or for God. When I walked into the kitchen there was my wife on her knees with her arms stretched to heaven praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest.”