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.
Luke 2:6-7 CEB
Jesus’s birth story has long been a part of my personal stream of narrative. I know all the players---Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, and, of course, the innkeeper, who is often interpreted in a bad light. There are a few things we need to understand about the innkeeper. In Luke 2:7, we read-“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Nowhere in the sentence does it say, “The innkeeper, being a complete and total jerk, told Mary, Joseph, and Little Baby Jesus to get off his lawn.” We make the mental leap that the innkeeper was a bad guy because he “turned away” these sacred people. I’ve never understood the need to make him evil. The innkeeper was honest when he said my inn is full in a time when there are lots of people looking for shelter. He had no ill intent, and yet we want to interpret his honesty as villainous and rude. Perhaps it is our culture.
I am from the South. Hospitality is a big deal in Southern culture. We take care of each other, open our homes, make sure no one is without when they are with us. At Christmas, I have heard lots of disdain heaped on the proverbial (because he’s only implied) innkeeper. He doesn’t do his duty. He gives the Holy Family sloppy seconds by putting them in the stable. That’s the easy interpretation of this situation. By thinking of him as a villain, we miss a strong point. The innkeeper is not a villain, but someone who has limited resources that have been used up. We’ve all been there. I’m sure the innkeeper wanted to do his job, just like we want to do our jobs, and yet he had nothing left to give. At Christmas time, women most especially, face having no more room. We have to make those costumes, bake dozens of cookies, attend five or six different parties, bake more cookies, green the church, sing in the choir Christmas cantata and volunteer in dozens of ways during this four or five week period all while wearing a smile and a seasonal appropriate outfit. We want to do all those things, but we have nothing left to give at times. That’s okay. Sometimes we have to be the innkeeper and say, honestly, we have no more room. This is not turning Jesus away or giving him sloppy seconds. We do not fail Jesus or the church at all when we say “no more room.” Take a look at the story. Jesus and his family ended up with a roof over their heads for the night. They ended up being visited by shepherds. They were safe and well. Things worked out. There should be no shame for the innkeeper, and there should be no shame for you. Know when to be honest and say, “no more room.”
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Please remind me to acknowledge when I have nothing left to give, and grant me the honesty to speak out in these times. Also remind me that you love me even when I can only do so much. People judge. You just love. Amen.
Jessica is a writer, an English instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Georgia, and a burgeoning karaoke singer. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional Writing at Kennesaw State University. Her journey as a follower of Christ is ongoing. Her children are both adults, and she is having all sorts of new adventures that she couldn't have when her kids were young. She currently resides in a small 60s ranch style house in Cobb County, Georgia, and hopes to one day have a sponsor so that she can spend her days as a writer and possible karaoke singing beach bum. She's sure God laughs about this hope daily. She can be followed on Tumblr.