Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No Room?

It is Tuesday, Day 24 of the Fourth Week of Advent.  The story of the birth of Christ includes many characters...Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, the Angel Hosts, all are the good ones.  In most Christmas plays the character that seldom gets good reviews is the innkeeper in Bethlehem.  The story of the innkeeper is legendary.

Luke 2:4-7
4  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
5  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
6  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
7  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

It is interesting, the text does not say there was an "innkeeper".    Instead the text  says , "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born..."(vs 6)   Since the reason they traveled was because of the order of the census  the town would  have been bloated with extra people.  The birth of Jesus in a manger – an animal’s stall – was because “there was no place for them in the inn”.   The inference of an innkeeper is from the text and he usually gets bad press.

Many years ago (40 yrs) I came upon a story in a now forgotten publication – a story of a Christmas pageant.  It is a story of an innkeeper, but not the kind we think of in the Christmas story.   It is my most favorite Christmas story entitled “No Room in the Inn”.

No Room in the Inn
The story, now a legend, is told how Wallace Purling added a new touch to the Christmas play in a small town in the Midwest. Wallace was a little slow in the learning department. He was nine at the time and should have been in the fourth grade but was still in the second. In spite of his mental slowness, he was liked by the other kids in his class even though he was quite a bit taller and bigger than they.
According to the legend, Wallace fancied being a shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the director, Miss Lumbard, thought he might better fit the role of the innkeeper. After all, he wouldn't have too many lines to remember and, because of his size, he would be able to present a more forceful refusal to the much smaller Joseph.
So the big night came. Behind stage, Wallace was so totally engrossed in the play that Miss Lombard had to make sure he didn't wander onstage before his cue.
Then came Wallace's part.
Looking exhausted from the long journey, Joseph and Mary slowly approached the entrance to the inn. Joseph knocked. The door opened immediately, and with Wallace putting on his gruffest voice declared, "What do you want?"
'Seek elsewhere,' Wallace barked. 'This inn is filled.'
"We seek lodging," Joseph replied.
"Seek it elsewhere," Wallace barked. "This inn is filled."
"Sir, we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very weary."
"There's no room in this inn for you," Wallace stated strongly.
"Please, good innkeeper, this is my wife, Mary. She is heavy with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner for her. She is so tired," Joseph pleaded.
For the first time, Wallace the innkeeper began to let down his guard and relax a little. There was a long pause ... and silence.  Now the audience was beginning to feel tense.
The prompter from the wings whispered "No! Begone!" .
"No!" Wallace repeated automatically."Begone!"
Joseph looked at Mary, put his arm around her, and with heads bowed in sadness, they slowly walked away.  But the innkeeper didn't close the door and go inside. He stood there with mouth open watching the forlorn couple leaving his inn. He was genuinely upset. His eyes unmistakably filled with tears.  Then totally unexpected, Wallace departed from his memorized script...
"Don't go, Joseph," Wallace called out. "Bring Mary back."
And then with a broad grin lighting up his whole face he spoke loudly and clearly, "You can have my room."
Some in the audience felt Wallace had ruined the pageant. Others, however, felt it was the best Christmas pageant they had ever seen.

I love the story and have read it every year for forty years now.  It is a story of a soft heart, and a boy who couldn’t do what the scripture says the innkeeper did – he couldn’t turn Jesus away.  “You can have my room” reminds me of the scripture in the book of Revelation where the risen Lord Jesus speaks to the Churches:

Revelation 3:20
20  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

For all of us, the story of Christ’s birth is a reminder that not only did Jesus come into the world to live among us, but he comes to us even today and it is up to us to open our hearts and welcome him in.


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