“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
When Rome’s Emperor Augustus declared all Jews must register for the census in the town of their family’s origin, the number of nights with no rooms available in the inn at Bethlehem may have increased. For an innkeeper, a full house was a good thing, except when it wasn’t, except when he must answer, “No room” to a knock at the inn’s door. A conscientious innkeeper, valuing hospitality, would look for a way to soften the words, “No room.” He would look for a way to rearrange space in order to admit one more traveler needing shelter for the night.
Perhaps as a child in synagogue school, Bethlehem’s innkeeper may have paid careful attention when the rabbi taught from the Book of Law: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut 10:19). Perhaps that directive helped shape his approach to innkeeping.
With all rooms rented for the night, the Bethlehem innkeeper may have been tempted not to answer Joseph’s knock at the inn door. But the innkeeper answered the knock and immediately sensed he must find room for two weary travelers. He must find room and privacy.
Years later, as many young children do, Mary’s son may have asked, “What was it like when I was little, when I was a baby?” Mary may have told her son about the man in Bethlehem who, having no more rooms in his inn, offered shelter to her and Joseph in his barn–a warm, quiet, private place, the place where he was born. Mary may have told her son the ways in which the innkeeper showed kindness to their family of three, although she and Joseph were strangers to him.
When Mary’s son grew to manhood, traveling and teaching in Galilee, Mary’s son, the Son of God, may have remembered the story of the Bethlehem innkeeper welcoming his parents the night of his birth. He may have been thinking of the Bethlehem innkeeper as he taught his disciples what God expects…“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matt 25:36).
Sandra Canipe and husband, Chris, have been First Baptist members since September 1971. Sandra served the church as children’s minister (1991-2008) and weekday preschool director (1991-2010). In retirement, she is a docent at the Greensboro History Museum and a Hospice volunteer, baking birthday cakes for patients.