“Welcome. Come in, come in.” boomed the wizened little innkeeper as he opened the door. “We don’t get many visitors in Bethlehem this time of year.” In an aside, he sent his grandson out to care for the visitors animals, “Just put them in the old stable. Don’t forget the feed and water.” The old man walked with a limp as he pointed the couple to the guest room. The room was dark and the ceiling stained with soot, but the blankets were clean and soft. The light from the oil lamp flickered on the wall giving the room a soft glow. The husband nodded with approval. “We’ve traveled far. Some nights we were able to sleep in an inn, others out on the cold ground and once we slept in a stable with the animals.”
“Well,” responded the innkeeper, “there was a time we had a couple stay in our stable, too. It is quite a story. Pull up a chair and I’ll tell you about it.” He waited for the pair to settle and poured them a drink to ease their thirst. The old man began, “At that time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the Roman world and everyone had to register in the town of their ancestors in order to pay their taxes. Our quiet little town of Bethlehem was not quiet then. It exploded with people almost overnight. I remember that I was about twelve. Old enough to do chores and young enough to think I did them all.” He paused to rumple the hair on his grandson’s head affectionately. “I had thought that it would be fun seeing all the strangers and family come to town, but instead it was a whole lot more work then I had bargained for. I had been hauling water and hay for the animals and carrying things from here to there. My parents had been turning people away from the Inn for hours. Our house was full. The whole town was full. There were people sleeping on mats and blankets on every floor in Bethlehem.”
“It was early evening when there was yet another knock on the door. Father had answered declaring, “There is no room.” even as he opened our door. But then he had come back in and had a quiet word with mother.
I remember mother saying in shock, “You want to put them in our stable?” Our stable is a hollowed out cave in the hillside with rock walls to keep the animals penned. On that winter night the stable was cold, damp, and chock full of smelly beasts. I was sent out to move the animals around to make a place for the couple who would be staying there. When I saw them, I understood why my father had not turned them completely away. The man, a descendent of David, looked weary and even a bit desperate. He had clearly traveled some distance. Then I glimpsed his wife, not much older than me really, but so heavy with child that even I knew her time was near. I wondered when they had last rested. There among the camels, donkeys, cattle and horses I hurriedly made room. They told me their names were Joseph and Mary from the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Mother sent me back with a bucket of fresh water and some thin rags. I heard the man breathe a prayer and question, “Here? Lord, in this place?” His wife sighed as she eased her bulky frame down onto the scratchy straw. I left them to their rest.
Around the fire that night there was a lot of discussion about the meaning of the strange star that had appeared in the east and now seemed almost directly overhead. Everyone spent time looking up in awe and wonder.
I had scarcely laid my head down for the night when I heard the thin wails of a newborn drift from the stable. Mary had had her baby. Now there were three travelers in our stable. I fell back asleep only to be woken again by the bleating of sheep. The local shepherds usually kept watch over their sheep on a nearby hill top. Curious, I staggered out of bed to see what was going on.
There were sheep in the courtyard. Ewes and lambs clustered together. Their breath steaming in the crisp night air. The strange star was now directly over our little stable casting a warm golden glow over each fuzzy sheep. My parents were speaking with a tall shepherd carrying a tiny lamb over his shoulders. I hurried to the stable to see what was happening. There more shepherds stood or knelt. Some were talking excitedly about the birth of a King. They told me of a great vision of angels that had appeared to them. Angels who told them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” The shepherds had immediately set off to find the child that the angels had spoken of. And there He was, a tiny baby with outstretched arms lying in a manger. The very manger I used daily to feed our animals. Mary’s dark eyes gazed adoringly at her newborn son. She brushed his soft cheeks with kisses. Mary appeared to be tucking the memory of this wondrous night deep into her heart. Joseph knelt beside her. The lines of tension on his face had eased. He looked shocked and scared, grateful and happy, like most new fathers. Together they marveled at their tiny son. They named him Emmanuel, which means “God With Us.” And all around the shepherds glorified and praised God for what he had shown us that night. Our humble stable was where God reached down from His holy heaven and touched the earth.
“Don’t you wonder what became of him. That baby born so long ago,” interrupted the visitor.
“No, I don’t wonder. I know, and I suspect that you do too. The child grew in stature full of wisdom and grace, and in favor with God and man. He became a carpenter and started a ministry when He was about thirty years old. The whole country side near Jerusalem would come out to hear him. He proclaimed good news to all men. He healed the sick, raised the dead, touched lepers, and restored sight to the blind. He satisfied the hunger of souls and comforted those who wept. He calmed a storm, walked on water, and stirred up the religious leaders. He ate with sinners and drank with tax collectors. This man who knew no sin was crucified on a hill between two thieves. Mary was there at the foot of His cross. How her heart must have broke to see her son so. He died and was buried in a borrowed tomb, but on the third day He rose a victor from the grave. He was our Messiah, the man known as Jesus.
The innkeepers son continued, the Psalms tell us “Be still and know that I am God.” You’ll remember God showed Elijah that He is often not in the wind, the fire or the rain—but rather He is in the still small voice. The King of Kings was not born in a mighty palace. Jesus Christ came here as a small voice, a tiny babe in a manger.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). He takes what little we have to offer him, the hollowed caves, the very stables of our lives, filled with waste and despair and gives us beauty for ashes.
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas.