The Innkeeper’s Wife

Heritage Presbyterian Church

December 24, 2019
Christmas Eve
Scripture reading – Luke 2: 1-20
Advent Sermon series: “Faces in the Crowd”
[adapted from “The Innkeeper’s Tale” by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson]

They think my husband, Jacob [pronounced “ya-cob”], must be some kind of cruel, heartless landlord. Someone must have told them that. But they’re wrong, just plain wrong, and it’s time to set the record straight, once and for all.

People say Jacob and I are just innkeepers. I suppose you’d call it an inn. To us it’s just a big house. His grandfather built it back when his trading business was at a peak. And he built it big enough to fit all fourteen kids.

Well, a few years ago, Jacob and I were just rattling around in that big house – kids grown up and all – and we were thinking, maybe we could take in a few travelers.

Jacob and our children always loved my cooking, so we just let out word that we’d take people in, and they started to come. Every night we’d have a person or two, sometimes more.  People would always come back when they came to town again, intent on another bowl of my special lamb stew.

Then came that ridiculous census the governor thought up. Taxation, pure and simple!  People from all over the province flooded into town that week. Filled us clean up.  Jacob and I slept in the main room where we always do, and we put our guests in the other three rooms. They kept coming! Then we doubled up two or three families to a room. They kept coming. Finally, when we had filled the main room with four families plus Jacob and me, so we started turning people away.

We must have gotten in and out of bed ten times that night, stumbling over bodies to get to the door. “No more room, sorry folks. No more room. Come back in the morning. We have a couple of families leaving then.” They’d mutter something and head back to their party and go sleep somewhere next to a house under the shelter of a blanket. We just couldn’t make any more room. That’s the honest truth.

But we did make room for one more couple. Joseph was a burly man with big arms and strong hands, down from Nazareth, I think he said. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. We would say, “No, we’re sorry,” and he’d tell me about his “little Mary.” Well, when I saw “little Mary” she wasn’t very little at all!

She was just about as pregnant as a woman can get, and awfully pale. While Joseph was pleading, I saw her grab her stomach in pain, and I knew we couldn’t let her have that baby outside in the wind and cold.

Jacob was ready to turn them away because we just didn’t have any room.  But he and I both knew God would judge us harshly if we did such a thing.  So we thought for a moment…the barn! That would just have to do, I told myself, and led them and their donkey out back. Now it was pretty crowded, so I shooed several animals into the pen outside to make room in one dry corner. Joseph said, “We are most grateful.” Then with a serious look, he asked me, “Do you know where I can find a midwife in these parts? We might need her tomorrow or the next day.”

That man didn’t know much about having babies, it was plain enough to see. I ran to Aunt Sarah’s house and pounded on the door until her husband came. “One of the travelers is having a baby,” I told him. “I’ll wait while Aunt Sarah gets dressed.” I stopped a moment to catch my breath. “And tell her to hurry.”

By the time we got back to the barn, Joseph had Mary settled on some soft, clean hay, wrapped up in a blanket, wiping the perspiration off her brow, and was speaking softly to her as she fought the waves of pain. Aunt Sarah and I pushed Joseph and Jacob and me out of the barn. “This is no place for men,” we said.

It didn’t take long.  All of a sudden, a baby’s cry broke the night silence. “You’ve got a strong baby boy,” Aunt Sarah was saying as the men peeped inside. She hands the baby to me, and she wraps it up in those swaddling bands she had saved. Cute little thing, I tell you.

Well, Joseph goes over to Mary and gives her a big hug, and a kiss on the cheek, and I handed Mary the baby.  Then I went over to Jacob and took his hand with a smile. “Remember when our Joshua was born?” I whispered to him.  Jacob smiled a soft, proud smile.

The lantern was blowing almost out, the cattle were lowing softly, and baby Jesus was asleep in his mother’s arms. That’s how we left them as I walked Aunt Sarah home.  A chilly wind was blowing, and I looked forward to getting back inside.

By the time I got back, Jacob was in bed, and I was about ready to put out the light, step over sleeping bodies, and get under the warm covers, when I heard some murmuring out by the barn.

“I’d better check,” I told myself. When I peeped in, I saw shepherds. Raggedy, smelly old shepherds were kneeling down on the filthy barn floor as if they were praying! The oldest one was saying something to Joseph about angels and the Messiah. And the rest of them just knelt there with their heads bowed, some with tears running down their faces.

Joseph looked up and saw me. I was almost ready to run those thieving shepherds off, when Joseph motioned to me with his hand. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “They’ve come to see the Christ-baby.”

The Christ-baby? The Messiah? That was when I knelt, too. And watched, and prayed, and listened to the old shepherd recount his story of angels and heavenly glory, and the sign of a holy baby, wrapped in swaddling bands, to be found in a stable-manger.

My Lord, it was our stable where the Christ-baby was born!  Our manger where he rested!  Our straw, our lamp, my aunt Sarah and I assisting at his birth!!

The shepherds left after a while. Some of them leaned over and kissed the sleeping Christ-child before they departed. I know I did too.

I’ll always be glad that we made room in the barn for that family – that holy family. You see, Jacob and I are not hard-hearted innkeepers. I was there. I saw him. And, you know, years later that boy came back to Bethlehem, this time telling about the Kingdom of God.

Oh, I believe in him, I tell you. I was there. And, mark my words, if you’d seen what I’ve seen, you’d be a believer, too.