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Christmas: Joy to the World! (Luke 2)
It wasn't much of a place -- but it was his. It had been his father's before him, and his father's, and so on. There weren't many places like this in town.
It wasn't much of a town. Just a small town down the road from Luke 2, but it was the home of King David. In fact, this very inn was built on land that belonged to the family of David. Some said it was the exact spot of the house where David was born. Imagine that! A king being born right here! That made the town special -- but still not very big.
He thought about that on this day of all days. People were streaming in -- still streaming in from everywhere. He had never seen so many in his town. Where did they all come from?
Business was good -- almost too good -- at his place. All the thatched rooms were taken. People were even camping in the courtyard. The sights, sounds and smells of people and animals milling about almost drowned out the sight and sound of the coins now tucked away in a safe place.
As he moved about the crowd, he watched and listened. He was still nervous about some of the things he had seen and heard. There was a great deal of anger and hostility in this bunch of weary travelers.
The orders from Rome were being bitterly opposed but grudgingly obeyed. The census was Caesar's way of keeping the Roman boot on the necks of the Jews. No one liked it, but what could you do? The penalty for rebellion was swift and certain. So they came. It was more than inconvenient. It was galling to the proud people who were united in their common hatred of everything Roman.
Those born of the house of David had to report to the home of David -- to this little town whose name meant "the house of bread."
"Well," thought the innkeeper to himself, "if any more show up, there will be no more bread."
The mood of the travelers had begun to change. There was an almost festive attitude now. He breathed a sigh of relief as he turned toward the gate of his inn. There were still more seeking admittance. Only a few more, and then he would have to turn them away. There was little enough room now, and some were beginning to complain.
Night was falling. He glanced to the distant hills. The glow of the cooking fires meant that the shepherds of the temple flocks were settling down for the evening.
He laughed to himself about the irony of it. Those dirty, profane shepherds tending animals that were destined to be used for sacrifices in the holy place in the Temple. What a contrast: lowly shepherds and unblemished lambs. Those shepherds wouldn't even be allowed entrance into the temple grounds to see their perfect animals used in the rituals. They weren't good enough, but their animals were!
"Oh, well," he sighed, "who said life was fair?"
He turned again to the gate. More travelers. He had already sent some away. His inn was simply too crowded to accept any more lodgers.
Opening the gate, he saw the two of them standing there. They were sagging against the donkey tied to the post. The three of them had the same look about them. Man, woman and beast were utterly exhausted. In the dim light, it was hard to distinguish their features. But by the swell of her robe, it was obvious that this was a very pregnant woman.
He stepped outside the gate, holding his lantern high. Concern was etched on the face of the man as he glanced at the woman by his side. She was so young!
The man spoke first. "Please, sir. We have traveled quite a distance. Could you provide lodging for us tonight?"
The others he had turned away in the last hour or so had needed lodging too. But, somehow these two were different. It was more than the fact that the young woman was evidently near her time. There was fear, almost panic, in the eyes of the man whom he had taken to be her husband.
The man spoke again. "I must find shelter for my wife -- quickly."
Glancing over his shoulder, the innkeeper thought, "Couldn't I find a corner somewhere, make a place for her?" He shook his head. "No, there isn't a place .... there just isn't roo----."
"I'm sorry," he said, "there is no room in the inn."
It was as if he had struck the man a blow. Almost staggering, the man moved back to the woman and tenderly placed his arm about her.
".... but if he knew who this child is to be ...." the man said.
"No, Joseph, there will be room -- somewhere." She spoke for the first time, and as she did her eyes met the innkeeper's for just a moment.
He was startled by what he saw there. There was no fear, no panic -- just an incredible peace.
"Wait a moment," he heard himself speaking. "There might be a place. It's not much of a place, mind you, but it just might do. Come with me."
Lifting his lantern, he led the way around the side of the inn's enclosure. Pausing at the back of the fence, he turned to the couple. "You rest here for a while. I won't be long. I need to tidy up a bit."
"Let me help you," the man said.
"No, you stay with her. I'll be back soon."
The innkeeper moved quickly, an urgent excitement surging inside. "She could give birth any minute. I've got to hurry."
He made his way to the entrance of the cave. Someone, perhaps David and his brothers, had long ago carved out and cleaned out this cave to hold field animals. It was still a crude place -- and right now, a dirty one as well. Most of the stalls were occupied tonight, but there was one right over there. A little fresh hay, some clean water -- it wouldn't be much, but at least there was room.
Hurrying outside, he made his way to the waiting pair. "Let me show you the place."
The man helped her to her feet and they made their way carefully but quickly to the cave. Stepping inside, the woman placed her hand on the innkeeper's arm.
"This will be fine." There were tears in those eyes.
"I have to get back to the inn now, but I'll be back later to check on you." He stepped out quickly. He didn't want her to see the moisture forming in his own eyes.
"I've got to get back to business. There are a lot of people in my inn. I'd better pay attention to my paying customers." Paying? "I didn't discuss a fee with those two." His mind raced. Why was he so bothered by this whole thing? He had done a kind deed for a woman and man in need. He had helped a woman who needed a place to give birth. "What's another baby in a world filled with babies? Why is this getting to me so?"
He lost himself in the business of running his overcrowded inn. The night dragged on as he provided supplies, helped draw water, even settled a dispute or two. Drained by his exertions, he stumbled to his own quarters to catch an hour or two of sleep. His rest was a troubled one, despite his fatigue. He kept seeing their faces: the man's, troubled and anxious; the woman's, calm and serene.
"I'll get up in a few minutes and see about them," he told himself.
He dropped off to sleep. What was that noise? It grew louder, more insistent. Someone at the gate -- at this hour? Who could it be? What could be wrong?
Now fully awake, he thought again of the couple in the cave. Could something have happened?
Snatching the gate open, the innkeeper immediately recognized the noise maker. It was one of those shepherds. He knew him. This one he had caught trying to steal some of his feed last week.
"What do you want, thief?" he growled.
The man had a huge, almost stupid, grin on his face. "She has sent for you. You must come and see!"
"Who has sent for me? See what?" he shouted. "Do you know what time it is?"
Grabbing the innkeeper by the arm, the shepherd pulled him away from the gate. "Just come with me. She wants you to see!"
It finally dawned on him what the man meant. "I've seen a baby before," he said, "leave me alone!"
"You've never seen a baby like this one!" The shepherd would not be denied. He pushed and pulled the innkeeper, jabbering a wild tale about angels and lights and music and kings, until the innkeeper finally found himself standing outside the cave. The man, Joseph, was there; the fear and panic was now gone from his face. A different look -- just like hers -- now rested there.
"Please .... come in."
Peering inside, the innkeeper saw some more shepherds standing, kneeling, watching. And there, in the corner .... the ordeal of the delivery was written on her features. But her eyes told another story: the eyes of a new mother gazing down at a tiny form nestled against her breast, the eyes that now lifted toward him.
She was softly speaking. "Our people, the whole world, we've been waiting a long, long time for this little one. Thank you for making room for Him."
Turning to look into the dirty but beaming faces of the shepherd, the innkeeper exclaimed, "Who is He? What is He?"
The shepherd whispered loudly, "It's what I've been trying to tell you! The angels sang it for all of us .... 'Joy to the world, the Lord has come'!"
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