Minutes With Messiah Logo

What Innkeeper?

by Tim O'Hearn

We have just gone through the Christmas season. It is supposed to be a time of love and goodwill, whether or not one believes Jesus was the Christ. It is amazing, though, how judgemental people can get at this time of year. Not in the arguments about the separation of church and state. Nor even in the discussions between secularists and religionists. Rather, some people get very judgemental just reading the story of the birth of Jesus. They make judgements about a person not even mentioned in scripture, based on one small verse: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7)

There are a number of songs that mention “the innkeeper,” usually in a negative way. At least two songs written from the innkeeper’s viewpoint (Rest by Jason Gray, and No Room by Todd Agnew), picture the man as too busy or too misguided to care for a poor pregnant girl at his door. Others paint a man who is just uncaring.

Since there was an inn, it makes sense there was an innkeeper. It is also reasonable to believe that that position was held by a man. Nevertheless, the scripture makes no mention of him, or of any conversation or confrontation between him and the couple from Galilee. Was he even aware of this couple seeking room, or had he hung out a “no vacancy” sign? The biblical story does not say.

Why do we posit a man, and then portray him as cold and uncaring? Why not make him compassionate? If there is a conversation between the innkeeper and the young couple, why cannot we assume it went something like this.

It was a difficult time, but it only made for a good year for the keeper of the inn in Bethlehem. The emperor had declared that everyone must return to his family village to be taxed. That meant an unusually busy year at the inn. People had been coming in all summer, and now in early fall it seemed everyone was coming to beat the winter. On top of everything else, it was time for one of the big assemblies in Jerusalem. All the inns in the big city were booked, and people were spilling out to the surrounding town, even Bethlehem, five miles away. Of course, an increase in business meant the innkeeper had to be more watchful that his guests not be robbed. Then one afternoon (why do we assume it was night?), a young couple from Galilee stopped at his door. The woman was obviously with child. (If we must be unkind to the man, maybe we will allow him to wonder why they waited until near her due date to make the trip.) He wanted to help, but there were two considerations. His inn was just too full, and even if it hadn’t been, it was not an appropriate place to birth a baby. The inn was noisy and full of rough men, even at the quietest of times. Then a solution came to his mind. The inn was a two-story structure, with the rooms above and the stable below. The stable was full, too, with all the animals belonging to the guests; but it would be quieter and more comfortable for this couple. And if the weather did turn cold, it was probably warmer than the main floor of the inn. He offered them a corner of his stable, and may have done so for no charge, seeing their poverty and her condition. While they were staying there, the woman had her baby. The manger made a better crib than he could have otherwise provided. He was delighted to have helped. That was what he had gotten into the business for, in the first place.

We should look for the good in the story of the greatest birth in history. Actually, we should assume the good at all times. How wrong of people to be so judgemental of a man they make up. (Now look who’s being judgemental.)