Today’s reading from Luke’s gospel, the story of Christ’s birth, is full of sacred interruptions. Mary and Joseph’s lives were interrupted in a way that they had never imagined or anticipated before. The shepherds had to have been shocked by the angels who came to call on them. Zechariah, a temple priest, Elizabeth, his wife (John the Baptist’s parents), Simeon and Anna were all intentionally waiting for the Messiah and they were surprised by their providential encounters. Zechariah had spent his life and work waiting for the Redeemer. His initial reaction to the news of a coming savior had left him silenced in disbelief for months. God has a way of interrupting our ordinary lives with something extraordinary. Perhaps one of our greatest personal challenges is to allow ourselves to be interrupted. There is a nameless participant in this account of Jesus’ birth whose very ordinary gesture allowed the sacred a place to enter the world.
Luke speaks of hurried, anxious parents, whose lives have been interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy, who need to make a long journey at the worst time. The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census was a little less than seventy miles, but it would have been a treacherous journey by donkey or on foot, especially for Mary in the advanced stages of her pregnancy. Have you ever looked for a motel at night on a trip? Maybe you made a reservation but by the time you arrived, your room had been sold to someone else. The journey was even more complicated when you add the detail that Mary and Joseph would find no lodging when they arrived at their destination. After a lengthy period of searching and probably at the point of near desperation, a nameless innkeeper allowed the young couple to spend the night in his stable with all the animals, since there were no available rooms. We have no other information about the innkeeper and yet, he has been portrayed many times in Christmas pageants. Sometimes he is a heartless man, so concerned with the needs of his other guests that he turns the poor couple away. Most often, he is depicted as a sympathetic businessman who wishes he had available space to make the extra money during the census but is so moved with compassion for the young couple that he allows them to find shelter in his stable. No cost is ever mentioned. Really NO one knows who he was or what he was like. We only know that he allowed himself and his routine during the busy season to be interrupted. His inn was full. The “no vacancy” sign might have been on display. That is all that needed to be communicated to Mary and Joseph. Yet the innkeeper did more. He found a spot, or I should say, made a spot in order to serve the young couple. We do not even know if he was aware that a baby was born in his stable that busy night. Was he alerted to the arrival of a band of excited shepherds who happened to appear? What about the unusually bright star gleaming in the night sky?
The innkeeper’s part of the story ends abruptly in v.7 after describing that there was no place for the “beyond capacity” guests. The innkeeper had a small but important part in the Savior’s birth, which in so many ways foreshadowed the ministry of Jesus. The innkeeper allowed himself to be interrupted, moved to compassion, to sow love and grace, even when he had no obligation to do so. Jesus was on a mission. God had a plan for him. Jesus was intentional in what he taught and did in his ministry, and constantly allowed himself to be interrupted. He had compassion for all he encountered, whether grieving fathers, hurting women, hungry crowds, or even his own doubt-filled disciples. On many occasions Jesus could have just thrown up his arms in frustration at all he was attempting to do for humanity, but he still stopped and helped people in need.