We don't have to wait until we get to the inn to start to think about all of the persons who missed out on the first Christmas.
Because the inn was not the place where Joseph and Mary started; they started in Nazareth, the place that they called home. They traveled a road, a well-worn road, with hundreds, if not thousands of other travelers, all heading in the same direction. We know that when they got to Bethlehem, the inn was full of friends and family and familiar faces, none of whom seemed to bother to come downstairs, even when they heard a baby crying. But the road, too, was crowded with the same - friends, family, and familiar faces, all headed for a common place (that is, a place that they had in common).
Any one of those persons along the road could have struck up a conversation with this young couple. Any one of them could have asked about Mary's pregnancy or Joseph's betrothal or a thousand of other things. Do we honestly think that a whole throng of men and women traveled together toward a place called home and didn't talk to one another?
It doesn't seem to matter how weary I am or how stuck in my own little world or how preoccupied with a thousand thoughts about things to come I can get, there always seems to be someone who is eager to chat in the checkout line or talk about an item on the shelf we are both reaching for or whatever. Don't you think that with all of these persons traveling in the same direction for the same purpose - the census, the opportunity to go home - there was someone, at least one, who would have struck up a conversation?
Hey, Joseph! Brother, I haven't seen you since the homecoming game. How are you, man?
It's human nature.
Yet somehow, here we are, with a crowded road home and a bunch of friendly faces, and still - and still - Joseph and Mary had to seek room in the inn. Not one of these persons, not one who we know had to have chatted with the young couple, offered them a place to stay. Not one. It's the first question we ask when someone is coming to town: oh, where are you staying? But on the road home, no one seemed to ask it. No one seemed to discover that Joseph and Mary didn't really have a plan, didn't have reservations anywhere, were just sort of winging it when they got to Bethlehem. No one seemed to think about an extra room in their own home, not even for a friend. Not even for a familiar face. Not even for a very pregnant woman who could give birth at any time.
Which means that not only was the inn full of guests who missed out on Christmas because they couldn't be bothered to go downstairs, but the road, too, was full of travelers who missed the same.
Think about it for a second. Any one of those fellow travelers along the road could have invited Joseph and Mary to stay with them, could have ensured that this young couple had a place to lay their heads that night, could have offered a warm, cozy place to labor and bring this child into the world. One simple word, one simple invitation, and the story of Jesus could reach much differently. He didn't have to be born in a stable; he could have been born at Zachariah's house. But Zachariah, apparently, couldn't be bothered.
It's just one of those things to say that the story isn't always the whole story. There are things that aren't part of the story that, actually, are pretty big, too. Every story is just one breath away from changing entirely - even the Christmas story. Even our Christmas story. Even our Christmas story this year.
Who else is on this road you're traveling?