It’s Advent- my very favorite season. This year, we’re looking for Magic in the Mundane as we celebrate He Who Came, Stayed, and Will Come Again. Today we’re looking at the character of the innkeeper, about forgetting to look for the little God growing inside of others in the middle of mundane life, and somehow, miraculously, still being invited to be a part of God’s perfect story.
Dear Mr. Innkeeper,
If you’ll indulge me, I have a few questions.
Did you ever find out who you’d turned away?
Did you ever learn that that teenage girl had her baby that night, in the dark barn you pointed her towards?
Did you hear the shepherds come to welcome the baby?
And then later, years later, did you ever hear tell of this Jesus fellow?
Did you ever hear the miraculous, ridiculous story of his birth? Did you remember that peasant girl, that dark and busy night in Bethlehem?
Did you ever wonder if, maybe, you had turned God away when he knocked on your door?
I ask because, well, I think I’m finding myself in your shoes.
You see, I have the benefit of history when looking at your situation. I know how the story turns out, know who that little girl was and who that baby boy she was carrying turned out to be.
But I don’t always see the little God inside the people I encounter here in my life. Sometimes I’m blessed (or perhaps cursed) with the hindsight to see what I turned away, though.
I imagine you probably got into inn keeping because you were a hospitable person, or you believed in the importance of hospitality, or because your family was in the business of inn keeping and you’d always known hospitality and welcoming strangers. I’m sure there were days that you loved it, meeting all sorts of people and offering them food and shelter.
And I’m sure some days were busy, like the day that girl showed up late at night, without a plan or reservation. There were surely hundreds of people traveling into town that day, what with the census and all.
In the small details of real life, you lost the big picture and told a girl already laboring with her tiny miracle to go do that in the barn.
If you’re anything like me, I imagine you think about that night a lot.
You probably dwell on all of the things you could have done differently, how you could have given up your own bed or that corner by the kitchen for her to stay in. Imagine how you would have been the hero of the story! Finding a space for Mary to have a comfortable, beautiful, celebrated birth. A dignified birth for the Messiah.
But God didn’t choose a dignified birth, a comfortable, beautiful, celebrated entry.
Sometimes there really is no room at the inn because God wants to be born in a barn.
I’m learning hospitality these days, letting other people into my home and my life even when I left an empty beer bottle on the table and a some dirty dishes in the sink. It’s holy work, inviting people in. Home and life are sacred spaces, and they are meant to be shared. I’m sure you know that, though.
I’m also learning that there is such a thing as being full up. Sometimes there really is no room in the inn, no gas in the tank, no energy or space for others. It is possible to be completely spent.
I hate that.
It feels like a failure, turning people away. I’m sure you felt badly for Mary that night, realized she was in a predicament, but sometimes there is nothing you can do.
Don’t beat yourself up about this one, friend.
God wanted to be born in a barn. Undignified is, ironically, his style. I hope you learned that about Jesus, that you heard about his ragtag gang and his homeless, nomadic ways.
I hope you know that sometimes the inn is full and that’s okay.
I hope you keep welcoming the stranger. I hope you remember Mary and hesitate, consider, before turning anyone away.
And then, when there really is no room in the inn, I hope you gently point them in the direction of the manger.
Because where there may not be room in our homes or in our lives, there is always room with Him.
Merry Christmas, compadre.
Photo by Divine Harvester, via flickr