Friday, January 1, 2010

the innkeeper

Almost unavoidable, over the last 30 days or so, has been encountering a reading or a summary of the events in and around Bethlehem at the time of Jesus' birth. We're familiar with a lot of the key characters in the narrative, and many of us have miniature displays that include them, probably still out on some table or mantle soon to be packed away for eleven months. Over this now concluding holiday season, one member of the ensemble cast, one not typically part of the miniatures, has been stuck in my mind, and become a meaningful metaphor. That's the innkeeper. There actually is no innkeeper mentioned in the Luke 2 account of Jesus' birth, he exists only by inference. He is more a part of tradition than history. We are told, of course, that “...there was no room for them in the inn”, leading to the familiar manger scenario. Tradition, not the Gospel of Luke, has imagined a conversation with an innkeeper who, despite the “No Vacancy” sign, allowed them to stay with the cattle and donkeys out back in the shed. Maybe none of that ever happened. Maybe the hotels were obviously sold out, labor pains began, and they just took advantage of the first box of hay they found. But it's in the traditional story of a sold-out, but sympathetic innkeeper that I see metaphor. He let them stay. He did not turn them away. But he did not put them in the Presidential suite, or even a nice room with a view. The accommodations he allowed them was some unused space in a dark corner of the property. And in that innkeeper, I find a parallel with, particularly in the busy, chaotic period approaching Christmas, where we allow Jesus to stay. The cliché says Jesus is the “reason for the season”, but the reality is the reason for the season is Santa Claus, decorated trees, gifts, shopping, traveling, visiting, eating, social functions, football games, bonuses, time off school, and maybe a couple days off work. But we will allow a small portion of our holiday time and attention to focus on the birth of the Savior, as long as it's mostly just an hour or two Sunday morning. And Christmas Eve, we will typically take another hour or two to catch our breath and light a candle following the crescendo of chaos at the malls. Despite the “No Vacancy sign” on our December calendar, we will allow a little space, where we can, for “the reason”. But not the Presidential suite.