Being a good and faithful man, he took it as a true blessing, an obvious sign that his prayers had finally been answered. To hold a census requiring all to return to their homes to be registered, a direct order to all in Judea from Quirinius himself no less, resulted in his inn being occupied fully and for many days in a row. Business had never been so good! Truly, this was God’s response to his constant pleading. God is good, he thought to himself… just as there was a loud and persistent knock upon the door. Daylight was fading, so he opened his door with some measure of curiosity and angst.
Standing just beyond the glow of his entranceway lantern was a man, clearly fatigued, road worn, and agitated. “Help, please help. My wife is going to have a baby at any time and there is no room for us anywhere. Please, help us. We need a room for the night!” The innkeeper looked beyond the man and saw a young woman sitting upon a mule. Her eyes met his and he detected the weary urging within them. For a moment, he felt pity. He knew that there was one remaining room, but it was the nicest of all, one that would command the highest price, especially at this late hour of the day. From the sweaty and soiled appearance of the couple before him now, he knew that they would be in no position to pay that price. “No, we have no room here!” He aggressively pushed the door shut.
But Joseph leaned his shoulder into the doorway and made one last appeal. “She is going to have a baby any minute! Please… please.”
The innkeeper paused for a moment. His wife, coming in from feeding the animals in their stable, approached her husband and inquired about the commotion. Seeing the young man at the entrance and the woman in distress behind him, she immediately understood. She knew there was that one remaining room and just as she was going to suggest its availability, the innkeeper said brusquely: “Go to the back. There is a stable there. No one will bother you.” Then he slammed the door shut.
His wife gave him a sharp, disapproving stare and immediately gathered clothes to swaddle the infant, a cask of water, and some leftover bread and fish. She brought them to the couple and quickly departed.
Inside, the innkeeper prepared for the evening by helping his wife gather dinner for their guests, after which they sat and counted the money they had earned. But for the tense encounter with the dirty and rude man and his pregnant wife, this would truly have been the perfect day. Had they looked outside, however, they would have noticed that the woman had given birth to a son. They would have seen the shepherds proceeding past their doorway and gathering in the stable. They might have noticed the unusually starry evening. Perhaps, they may have even understood what had actually taken place just beyond their glance, right outside of their field of view. And perhaps they would have understood that their prayers were, in fact, answered that evening.
The Son of God came into the world in a manner that was completely unexpected. Everything about his life and ministry was also completely unexpected and certainly not what the people of those days had desired or been praying about. Advent is a good time for all of us to reflect on what we expect from our Savior, what we desire and pray about.
Our lives can so easily become filled with responsibilities, worries, distractions, and the demands that others have placed upon us or which we place upon ourselves. I can relate to the innkeeper in this story who was so sure of what he wanted, so focused on the present moment, and so certain of what was taking place around him… that he missed the greater point entirely. He didn’t stop to see. To hear. To consider what may have been happening just a few short steps away.
This Advent season, take some time…
To be quiet.
To question your certainty.
To be open to the unexpected.
Because oftentimes, that’s where we find Jesus.