Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One Night with the Innkeeper and His Wife (Luke 2:1-20)

Candlelight Christmas Eve 2013
Shared at Morehead United Methodist Church
and Stokesdale United Methodist Church

Written and enacted by Revs. Ashley & A.J. Thomas

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said,14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Husband: I’m not such a bad guy, you know.  I only get one line in the entire Bible – “No room in the inn” – and all of a sudden I’m some sort of heartless Scrooge who almost ruined Christmas.  I know what you all say about me – “Can you believe that rotten old innkeeper, turning an obviously pregnant girl away!” but it wasn’t like that at all.  For one thing, it was just our family home.  I’m no more an innkeeper than you are!  Innkeeper – makes it sound like we were running a Holiday Inn or something, but I promise you, our home is not regulated by the Bethlehem Lodging Association.

That’s not to say it doesn’t sometimes feel like we’re running a bed and breakfast, though!  Some of you have houses overflowing with company this time of year, and our house was no different.  But you know, we’re Jewish, and we take our hospitality seriously, because God told us to.  When visitors show up, you welcome them and you attend to their needs even above your own.

I remember that year was particularly busy, what with the census taking place and all. Everyone had to register for the census in their ancestral hometown, and so our normally quiet town was filled with visitors – all of them tired and stressed out.  Driving their donkeys the wrong way down one-way streets, asking locals for directions but not believing us and heading the opposite direction of where we told them to go.   Tourists!  Distant relatives – many of whom we had never met – showing up on our doorstep and staying for weeks on end, sleeping in our bed, eating our food, using our water, subjecting us to their views on politics and religion and who knows what else!

“Make yourself at home; our house is your house” – We had all sorts of visitors, coming and going, though some not going as quickly as they should – can anyone here relate?  I confess I welcomed our guests, but more out of a sense of duty than because I really wanted to.

Sometime after supper, there was a knock at the door.  Standing on my doorstep were an old man and a young girl who was obviously pregnant, I mean, she was PREG-NANT!  Their shabby clothes were filthy, indicating they had travelled some distance.  As soon as the man opened his mouth, I immediately recognized the country accent of someone from Galilee.  He said his name was Joseph, and he was the son of Jacob, the son of Matthan, the son of Eleazar, the son of “Blah Blah Blah” I have no idea who these people are but I assume we must be related somehow.

Like all the others, they needed a place to stay, and I mumbled the first thought that came to mind, “But we don’t have any more room!”  It wasn’t personal; we were simply out of space.

Before you judge me, ask yourself, in my situation – What would you do? A house full of company, no more room, and unexpected guests show up in the middle of the night – what would you do?

I came up with, what I thought anyway, was a pretty good solution, given the circumstances.  Here in the rocky hills of Bethlehem, there are little natural caves carved into nearly every hillside.  It so happened that the back of our house was very close to one of them, and we and our neighbors used it as a barn to keep our animals in.  It was mostly protected from the elements, and honestly, if you got a good fire going in there, it would warm up just like our house.  I know, it wasn’t ideal, but hey, it’s better than nothing, right?

Wife: What I remember of that night…I can certainly tell you, it was not silent. People had started streaming into town all week. Everywhere we went, our little town, was about to bust at the seams. And everyone was so grumpy. This census was ours to complete but it is not for us. Likely to be used against us. People were angry and scared. Receiving so many family and distant relatives, I was simply tired. When you’re Jewish, hospitality is essential. God commands his people to be gracious hosts, to be a people who welcome strangers. God said at any time we could entertain angels unaware. Unaware…indeed we were. We would welcome so much more that night.

The knock came like all the others. And I thought, “God, you have got to be kidding me! How on earth are we going to fit anyone else in the house! We have no more room!” But, there they were, Joseph and his new bride. When my husband opened the door and I saw them, my heart sank. Oh, to be THAT pregnant. Traveling so far. I’m surprised they made it here!

We found room. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The part of the house by the stable would have to do. I was so embarrassed. Who puts their guests in a stable?! We should have been better prepared. We thought we were.

But Mary and Joseph were gracious guests. They seem to be just fine taking that part of the house.

As my husband got them settled, I went back to the kitchen to redistribute tomorrow’s meals so there would be enough for Mary and Joseph. Then, I heard the scream! It was time. That baby was on its way. In addition to the cooking and cleaning, I would be midwife tonight. I grabbed a couple of other female relatives for assistance. We moved the men out of the room. Not that it took a lot of convincing… But, for our culture birthing was solely the work of the women. It’s dangerous work. It’s miraculous work.

From that moment in the evening on, time vanished. I can no more tell you the hour or hours of that night. All births leave you astonished. But, I tell you this one…Starlight flooded the room. I’ve never seen a sky so bright as that night. I asked Mary what they were going to name him. She smiled and said his name had been decided long, long ago. He would be called, Yeshua. I believe you pronounce that Jesus. It means “God saves.” About that time a crazy band of shepherds, pale as ghosts, were at the stable saying they had to see this baby. But, I knew why. I must admit, as crazy as it may sound to say out loud. The face of that child. No person has ever looked back at me with such understanding. No one has ever looked at me with more love, not even my husband, as that baby of Mary’s. A baby?!

While the shepherds visited, I went to go get my husband. He needed to this this, too.

Husband: My wife – she’s the eternal optimist in our family.  She’s the hopeful one, the believer – she has enough faith for the two of us, which works out well, because I’ve always been a bit of a doubter and a skeptic.

Wife: As soon as the baby and parents were settled, I rushed in to get my husband, to come out, and see for himself.  Have you ever experienced something so beautiful and so wonderful you can’t quite put it into words – the only way for someone else to know what you’re talking about is for them to experience it themselves?

Husband: I don’t know how long we were waiting, when my wife finally came back in.  Even in the moonlight I could tell that she was beaming – beaming!  It was a boy – mother and baby were both doing fine.  Would I come out and meet the baby?  Actually, she kept calling him “the wonderful baby.”  Would I come out and meet the wonderful baby that was born right here in our home?  There was an excitement, a joy, a wonder about how she spoke that I had never seen before.

Wife: We went out across the yard – and my husband stopped for a minute and looked up.  He was literally gazing up into the heavens; this man who never notices anything seemed to see the same thing in the sky I had noticed all night – that every star was twinkling with every bit of twinkle it had, like each one had some cosmically brilliant story to tell on that night.

We walked in, and the baby was lying in our manger.  My husband just stood there for a moment and was silent.  Don’t miss that – my husband, silent!

Husband: What was I supposed to say?  There isn’t much to say.  I am really not one for sentimentality – yes, it’s a baby, and babies are cute, but that’s not what left me speechless.  I can’t quite explain it, I just felt like all of a sudden, I was in the presence of something bigger than myself.  That in a tiny, wonderful baby, I sensed that he held all of eternity in his little balled up fist, and that his tiny heart was beating with a love big enough for the whole world, yet simple enough for even someone like me.  That doesn’t even make sense, does it?  Yet that’s exactly what I felt.

Wife: Extend hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware.  What an understatement!  We didn’t just entertain angels that night.  I think we may have played host to God himself.  For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a son is given.  O come, let us adore him!

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