I feel for that innkeeper, I think his name was Marcus, and all the bit players in the panorama of history. They work hard, play by the rules of the day, raise their children as best they know how when suddenly the spotlight falls on them and they don't even realize billions of people will be judging their actions.
Marcus, really was a decent fellow from what folklore suggests. He was married and had six healthy children with a seventh on the way. Marcus was a decent businessman who had managed to scrimp, save, and deal his way into acquiring a small inn with eight rooms. Trying to keep such an inn full while paying the required tribute and bribes to the tax collectors and Roman Centurions was no easy task. And this time of year was a slow one for travel.
So when the decree went out for the Enrollment from Caesar Augustus, Marcus was overjoyed at the prospect of an increase in business. And so the business came. The merchants, farm laborers, even wealthy land owners were forced to come to Bethlehem and be counted and taxed. By mid afternoon the inn was full of the visitors with enough dinaros to afford the luxury of some lamb stew and a bed. Most though camped on the outskirts of town or slept under the stars clutching their garments close to fend off the cold. Marcus sometimes felt bad about turning them away, especially the older people and the lame but business is business.
The appearance of Joseph and Mary created a bit of a dilemma for Marcus. First of all they hadn't bothered to ask for a room until the evening, long after all the rooms were full. Second, they couldn't pay the "special" rate he was charging which was three times normal (supply and demand you know) although Joseph offered a generous trade of his coat to fill out the fee. It was obvious that Mary was in pain and she was great with child. It looked like she was going into labor. Marcus remembered the signs his wife had given as she was ready to deliver. Normally he would have just turned them away along with the rest of the rabble that knocked on his door but something made him pause for a moment. He saw something in their eyes that he couldn't ignore. He felt their need.
Marcus decided to check with the people who had already taken his rooms to see if one would give up their room. The first six laughed in his face for they were not about to be forced out of their bed by strangers.
Then the seventh asked, "Which town does he come from?"
"Nazareth." replied Joseph.
"O mercy of the Lord No!" cried the seventh. "Our family will have no dealings with those from Nazareth!"
The eighth then asked, "How do you receive your bread?"
Joseph answered, "Why I am a carpenter."
"May the Lord smote me to mix with your blood" he answered in disgust.
Seeing that no one was willing to yield their bed for them, Joseph and Mary looked at each other with a heavy heart and turned away to walk to the outskirts of the city to seek a suitable place for the delivery amidst the town's garbage. Marcus found himself still concerned for these travelers so he stopped them and asked if they would consider staying in the only space he had left to offer, his stable.
He walked out with them helping Mary who was now going into heavy labor, sweat poring off her brow as she clutched her belly with each contraction. Joseph and Marcus cleared a stall of manure and put down fresh straw for Mary to lie in. It was not a moment too soon for her water had just broken. Joseph was getting quite excited since he had no idea what to do. Poor Mary was crying out in agony and the animals were nervous and excitedly stamping their feet and looking on.
Marcus had been through all this before and ran to fetch his wife Julia, to help out. When they returned, the baby's head was crowning and just about ready to be born. Mary had a wide strong pelvis that made the delivery easier even though it was her first child. Julia caught him as he came out and lifted him up for all to see. Marcus marveled at the boys dark Semitic eyes, curly dark brown locks and olive colored skin. He was a handsome one to be sure he thought. His fine features, unlike the coarseness of his father's suggested he might not have been of his seed. This wasn't uncommon to be sure as the Roman soldiers had their way with the women and the Jews couldn't do much to prevent it. But his features weren't Roman. More aristocratic and his eyes seemed so wise.
"So here lies a future Rabbi or King I wager!" laughed Marcus as Joseph held him for the first time. Julia had brought wide strips of cloth to wrap the baby in and they filled a manger with hay so the babe could find rest. Marcus and Julia walked back to the inn holding each other in wonder at all they had experienced. The night was brighter than normal and they looked up to admire the stars. One particularly bright one caught their eye as they went inside to retire for the night.
A loud, insistent knock roused Marcus from a deep sleep and brought him to his door. And behold, three Rabbi's dressed in their distinctive robes stood at his doorstep. Not only did the Rabbi's fine dress impress him, they carried themselves like the scholars he had seen at the temple teaching.
"Has a child been born here?" asked one urgently.
"Perhaps." said Marcus, still half awake and guarded.
"We have been guided by a star to this place and have been told in a dream that a prophet of David to his people will be born this night."
This style of speech Marcus recognized as a mark of a true Rabbi and not an impostor or thief so he led them to the stable. Marcus was surprised to find that some shepherds with their unkempt hair and woolen rags around their waist were already marveling at the child sleeping in the manger. Mary was sleeping and Joseph was sitting next to his new child beaming from ear to ear. The Rabbis fell on their knees when they saw the child for his image matched the dream. They offered gifts and rejoiced awaking poor Mary with a start. She picked up the child and lifted him to her breast encouraging him to take his first nourishment. Marcus was touched by the love he saw in her eyes for this tiny infant she cradled as the Rabbis prophesied about this being a fulfillment of this teacher and that teaching. Marcus was pleased he had offered his stable and wished he could have evicted one or two of his tenants that night so that they could have been more comfortable. But fair is fair and the animals had quieted down and were peacefully watching the spectacle. He wasn't sure but it seemed like he heard speech coming from their direction, a murmuring, but dismissed the event as the remnants of a disturbed dream state and returned to Julia's side to finish out the night.
At the cock's first crow, Marcus awoke and went out to see how everyone in the stable was doing. He was surprised to find that it was empty with no trace of what had happened the night before. He scratched his head and wondered if the events in the middle of the night had been a dream. He hoped that no soldiers had found them and chased them out of town (or worse).
Yet the memories of the night stayed with him and occupied his mind. What had those Rabbis meant when they called this child a redeemer? Of course everyone had heard the prophets extol the imminent return of the Messiah. And the economy was bad enough to suggest trouble was brewing. The prophets seemed to claim that every bad thing that happened had been foretold. It seemed like every odd ball who had no fear for their own life would claim to be the Messiah come to redeem captive Israel. Sure he'd seen them come and then get executed once they were able to incite an incident and disturb the Roman prelate.
Marcus wasn't used to thinking about such things, being a simple innkeeper. He went to temple to celebrate the holy days and give his offerings like all Jews did. He observed the Sabbath as was becoming popular at the time, gathering in a synagogue Friday night for prayer. He didn't think so much about what he was doing but followed in his fathers ways.
For some reason, the strange adventures of the previous evening touched him. He found himself asking questions that had never occurred to him before about matters that transcended his day to day concerns. Marcus began to wonder if his stable had been the birthplace of a future Rabbi who would lead the people and bring the Roman rule to an end. He was bitter that the priests at the temple had made deals with them and did not resist as the Rabbis in the country did. Not that Marcus was a rebel, he stayed clear of them. He had a family to support.
As he walked back to the inn, he pondered all these things in his heart and vowed to ask the Rabbi at his synagogue to explain these signs. He felt a new thirst for understanding and a desire to walk faithfully in the way of his people. Suddenly he spotted a speck of gold on the ground. He drew in a deep breath realizing that the Rabbis had come in the night and brought gifts for the baby. Marcus congratulated himself that he would be remembered as the one who took in the couple and provided for them.
Well poor Marcus didn't get such a good write up in the records we have of him. All we hear is that he didn't make room in the inn for Joseph and Mary. That's how it is with history, the people become lifeless and colorless unless they get to tell their version. If Jesus reappeared in a manger today, you bet it would at least make Current Affair.
If we hear the knock this Christmas season, let us open our hearts and extend ourselves just a little. None of us can bear the world on our shoulders nor face the untold suffering of humanity. Yet each of us can open the door and respond as best we can. It is the response that opens the way for the process of communion with the living presence many name God.
So, People look east.
The time is near of the crowning of the year.
May your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today:
Love the Guest is on the way.