Back Stories – When you peek between the lines or catch a glimpse of the shadows slipping quietly behind the scenes, there are a lot of people in the Bible—often nameless, faceless people—who play a huge role in the final outcome of the story. Theirs is the back story—those quiet dramas in the background that appear so obscure and trivial at first glance yet put in motion so much. These are men and women, sometimes even boys and girls, who made choices or took actions that either made an enormous contribution to God’s unfolding drama of redemption, or cost His Kingdom dearly. These are their stories.
We’ll Leave the Lights On For You
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7
The Innkeeper. He usually gets an honorable mention from the pulpit each December. And over the years, a decent share of people have tried to flesh him out. He deserves this back story because what he did created the scene that has since captured the heart of the entire world.
Even people who aren’t inclined to bow their knees to the Calvary story still stand in awe of the drama that happened in Bethlehem three decades before the cross. Mary and Joseph are household names because of the extraordinary courage and humility they brought to their circumstances. The unwashed shepherds and the privileged Magi bracket the manger scene as representatives of the two respective ends of the human continuum.
But the whole nativity picture pivoted on a decision of an innkeeper who was willing to think and act outside of the confines of his situation. God loves to involve people in His plan who tend to pay closer attention to the moment. He found a willing heart in this innkeeper. And because he did, the whole world’s a better place.
Just for the record, let’s at least acknowledge the possibility that the innkeeper might have been a woman. It’s always assumed that it was a man—perhaps because of the diminished priority that that era of history placed on women’s contributions. But whether it was a man or a woman, one thing that was going to change as a result of the baby born in his or her stable was that women were going to begin to be shown the honor and respect God had originally designed into their gender.
Bethlehem wasn’t much of a town back then. We do know, however, that it was bursting at the seams with an influx of people who had doubled back to the tap root of their family tree to check in for a Roman census. Government proclamations seldom come with any grace attached. That’s why Mary found herself on this road trip on the launch date of her first born child.
We don’t know whether the inn was a five star venue with lots of amenities or a simple B&B. It doesn’t matter. There were no rooms anywhere to be found. We don’t know if the baby was born the first night they moved into the stable or whether they had been there a while. We don’t know whether it was a lean-to, a full fledged barn or a cutaway in the rocks. We’ll leave that to the artist’s imagination.
But there’s something we do know; every inn had a stable. They had to. It was the equivalent of a parking garage. People who stayed had to have a place for their means of transportation.
So every hotel that Joseph walked into and every front desk clerk he talked with had the same option. But only one seemed willing to slip outside the confines of the standard innkeeper mentality. Let’s call it SIM for short. You’d only know it if you are an innkeeper, but the object of the game is to provide a room to a customer for a price. Once all your rooms are occupied, you get to put a “No Vacancy” sign in the window and sit back and count your money. When people inquire, you simply point to the sign, give them a shrug and go back to your calculating.
But here was a couple who didn’t have the luxury of going online in advance to reserve a safe, warm place to be in at the official start of their family. Obviously, emergency wards and delivery rooms weren’t yet on the city map. This innkeeper didn’t look at Joseph and Mary with a “too late, not my problem” attitude. He (or she) saw a couple in need and offered them something that would at least spare them the humiliation of having to deliver their child on the street.
We’ve got to be careful reading too much into the unknowns, but there’s one thing that is certain: this innkeeper didn’t look at people as customers. He (or she) looked on people as people. This young couple had a need he felt he couldn’t ignore.
It’s interesting how life changes when we make it our aim to think like this innkeeper. Life has a lot less hassles when you stick to the SIM. But it’s amazing, in fact, beyond amazing, what God has in store for those among our ranks who are determined to see people the way God sees them. It’s a grace-based commitment to leave the lights on for everyone. And based on what the Light of the World did for us, it’s the least we can do in return.