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Lessons from the innkeeper

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–People the world over now celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but the first Christmas went almost unnoticed. With the exception of a few shepherds –- the wise men likely arrived well after the actual birth — no one really paid much attention as Jesus made His entrance into human history.

Though the epicenter of Jesus’ birth was teeming with activity, no one really took note of His birth. Caesar Augustus had decreed that a census be conducted of the Roman Empire which required families to travel to their cities of origin. Thus the small village of Bethlehem was bulging with people that had come to be counted.

When Joseph and a very pregnant Mary arrived in Bethlehem, the one inn we know they approached was filled to capacity. Someone, presumably the inn keeper, offered them space in a stable. Given Mary’s delicate condition they choose to settle in with the animals and Jesus was born.

I have always wondered if the innkeeper made any kind of effort to find space for Mary inside the inn. Did he ask for a volunteer that would be willing to give up his or her space for a pregnant woman?

Perhaps the innkeeper was preoccupied with profit. Maybe he saw an opportunity to make just a little more money by renting the stable. Of course he might have been distracted just trying to keep the quests in his overcrowded inn comfortable. Whatever the reason for his preoccupation, the innkeeper missed the most significant birth in human history.

I have always found it rather intriguing that no one in the inn offered to give up space for a pregnant woman. They wouldn’t even have had to leave the hotel. All that anyone would have needed to do was just sort of rearrange a kid or two or even have them double-up. Where there is a will there is always a way.

Perhaps everyone was settled in and comfortable. The idea of picking up and moving was just an annoying thought. It was difficult enough trying to take care of one’s own family in the crowded inn without having to worry about the plight of some stranger, even if she did happen to be pregnant.

It is also likely that a family reunion atmosphere prevailed in the inn. Families had traveled from far and wide in order to participate in the census. Even though the conditions were crowded, extended families probably were enjoying being together. No one wanted to miss out on spending time with family.

I don’t know what kept someone in the inn from volunteering to give up their space. Whatever motivated the preoccupation of the guests in the inn, it caused each one of them to miss out of the most significant birth in the history of the world.

Even after Jesus was born we have no record that the innkeeper, or any of the inn’s guests, came to check on the newborn. You would think someone would wander out and see how the new mother and child were faring out in the stable.

Preoccupation almost always produces indifference. When you focus only on your own wants or needs, nothing else and no one else seems to matter.

While the preoccupation of the innkeeper and his guests may have caused them to overlook the needs of a pregnant woman, they could not have known of the significance of the child she was going to deliver. Had they known the baby born under their very noses was their Savior, perhaps they would have reacted in a much different fashion.

While it is sad that the innkeeper and his many guests missed out of the birth of the Messiah, they can be excused due to ignorance. However, we have no such excuse.

We have the benefit of hindsight. We know that Jesus is the Son of God who came to deliver us from our sin and give us the hope of heaven. If we miss the reality of Christmas, we have only ourselves to blame.

Take care that you do not repeat the mistake of the innkeeper and his guests. Don’t allow preoccupation with the festivities of Christmas to cause you to miss the reason for the festivities. It would be tragic to celebrate Christmas superficially, all the while missing the celebration of the most significant birth in human history -– the birth of our Savior, Jesus.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears each week in Baptist Press, is editor of the Baptist Message, the newspaper of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs