I was driving in Eastern Kentucky, my crappy car radio scanning for any station it could pick up. It settled on an obscure AM station where the DJ was holding forth a vitriolic diatribe on the Innkeeper. You know the one. Though he isn’t actually mentioned in the Bible, he’s the poor guy who was added to the Nativity Story, probably so more children could have starring roles in the annual Christmas play at church.
You’ve got Joseph and Mary and their unborn child as the protagonists. Herod plays the villain. The cast is rounded out with supporting roles of shepherds, wise men, angels, and assorted barnyard animals.
This DJ held the view that the Innkeeper was an even larger criminal than Herod. He pictured a hateful, Grinchy man who abused his power in an attempt to feel less small. “No room!” this Innkeeper sneered, gleeful to turn away a poor man and his pregnant wife. According to the man on the radio, the Innkeeper’s soul was damned to hell because he refused to make room, both for the couple and, apparently, for Jesus in his heart.
This isn’t how I see it at all. Bethlehem was crazy crowded, what with the forced census and all. These people weren’t going willingly, but instead because The Man in Rome was forcing them. Rooms were scarce, as was food. People were stressed, what with the crowds and pickpockets and lack of water.
At the pivotal point in the Innkeeper’s tale, Mary and Joseph have walked over 100 miles from Nazareth, Mary only occasionally getting to rest on the donkey’s back. When they finally arrive, they’re dog-tired. I can only imagine the picture they painted. Their worlds have been truly toppled, two people forced together in an untenable situation. That exhaustion and sheer terror that only two almost-parents feel evident on their faces. Mary hungry as only a pregnant woman can be, ready to eat the donkey if it would only stand still. Joseph probably a little irritated, because they would have been here a lot sooner if she hadn’t had to stop to pee so many times. It would have been totally human to be a bit short with the innkeeper when told there no vacancies.
But the Innkeeper holds it together. He’s booked solid, and has no obligation to these two, who clearly showed up a few days late. But he makes room in his heart for two strangers down on their luck. He finds for them space, shelter, safety. And that’s the real miracle of the story. The innkeeper is the unsung hero, the quiet champion of compassion. He’s the moral compass of the Nativity.
What I’m saying is this. Make more room for others, both in your home and in your heart.
We can always make more room. Even when it requires some shuffling about, some rearranging of limbs or furniture or world views. The miracle happens when we share our bounty with all, when we smile and willingly make more room.