Richard Hall Online

A Methodist Minister Blogging like it’s 2006

Even Less Room

The innkeeper has had such a bad press with his “No room!” that you’d think he was a barroom bouncer. And perhaps he was, kind of …

The innkeeper couldn’t believe his eyes when he woke up the next morning. Mind, he wasn’t in the best of moods anyway, what with all the fuss his wife had been up to during the night, acting as midwife and wet nurse to the girl from up north, her with the funny accent, to-ing and fro-ing from kitchen to stable, and making such a racket that he’d hardly had a wink’s worth of sleep. And now he pulled the curtains and looked out the bedroom window, and – behold! – a mob milling around the entrance.

“We can’t have this!” he grumbled, as he slipped on his dressing gown and hurried down the stairs. He opened the front door and – phew! – what a stench! Shepherds – minging shepherds! Olfactorily overcome, he shouted, “What’s all this then?”

“We’ve come to see the baby,” they replied.

Now I should tell you that the inkeeper, though a grumpy old sod, was a very religious person. In fact, he was a Pharisee, a man of prayer, a tither, a giver of alms, a scrupulous observer of the rules and rites of Israel. So he didn’t like shepherds. It’s not so much that they were smelly, or poor – though, truth to tell, he was a bit of a snob – it’s that they worked on the sabbath, drove their flocks into Gentile territory, and, well, everybody knows that shepherds, like gypsies, are wandering, thieving no-goods.

“Bugger off!” he cried.

“But, sir,” pleaded the shepherds, “a choir of angels directed us here to worship the Christ- child.”

“You worship the Christ-child,” exclaimed the innkeeper. “Over my dead body! You’re ritually unclean. We can’t be having such filthy sinners around the Saviour, now can we?”

“But,” they repeated, “we’ve been sent by God.”

“Impossible,” the innkeeper solemnly intoned. “The Bible won’t allow it. Be off with you!”

Then he felt a tap on his back. It was his wife. “Let them in,” she said. “It’s Christmas.”

And so it came to pass.

But the shepherds weren’t the only ones at the entrance to the inn. There were three odd-looking men. Foreigners, clearly. But nice threads – too rich to be asylum-seekers. The innkeeper, you see, despised asylum-seekers, avid reader that he was of the Rupert Murdochai press. Indeed every morning he fervently prayed, “Give us this day our Daily Mail.”

But those funny-looking foreigners – “And who might you be?” the innkeeper enquired.

“We are three wise men,” they replied, “from the East.”

“The East? How far ‘east’?” asked the innkeeper suspiciously.

“We’re from Iraq,” they said.

A heathen land, thought the innkeeper. “You’re not Jews then?”

“No,” they admitted, “we are not Jews. We are Babylonian priests who followed a star that has led us here to worship the Christ-child.”

“That’s as maybe,” said the innkeeper. “But do you really think that I’m going to allow pagan clergy into my establishment, or even my barn, to worship the Messiah of Israel?”

“But,” they protested, “we have been sent by God.”

“Impossible,” the innkeeper solemnly intoned. “The Bible won’t allow it. Be off with you!”

The innkeeper felt another tap on his back. It was his wife again. “Let them in,” she said. “It’s Christmas.”

And there were other people milling around the entrance to the inn, all trying to get a peek of the Christ-child. But if angel-sent shepherds, and star-guided wise men, could barely get past his self-appointed minder, then ordinary local folk had no chance. “Enough’s enough,” the innkeeper muttered. It was as if you had to pass an entrance exam to see Jesus – and the innkeeper was the Grand Inquisitor. And if you might call him the first Christian, and his inn the first church, well, at least it started as it has usually gone on, its leaders afraid of difference and defilement, policing its borders according to right belief or acceptable behaviour, including the few while excluding the many. Yes, the Holy Family came within a woman’s generous and open hospitality from spending this day of celebration on their own.

But wait! What’s that I hear? Evidently not just shepherds and wise men have made it to the cradle. “Moooo!” a cow is lowing. “Neighhhh!” a donkey is braying. They snuggle up to the baby boy and keep him warm with their moist breath. What was it Isaiah said? “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s stall; but Israel, my own people, has no knowledge, no discernment.”

Yes, one way or another, if not through the church then in spite of it, God will find a way for his worship and witness.

For Jesus came not for the righteous and winners,
He came for the outcasts, the losers, the sinners;
Not just for the people of Christianised nations,
For everyone, everything, all of creation.
As animals welcomed the child in the stable,
The Christ welcomes all who would come to his Table.
No innkeeper here who will check your credentials,
Your simple desire is all that’s essential:
All invited, accepted, beloved by the Lord –
That’s the Good News of Christmas the gospels record!





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