We want the story at the inn to center around a silent night, around a weary young man and his very pregnant wife-to-be who straggle in the front door well after dark, looking for somewhere - anywhere - to stay in his hometown. We want it to be about an innkeeper who doesn't have any room, but makes room anyway - a makeshift crib in a manger in a stable, which looks all warm in its golden hues illuminated by the light of an oil lamp. It's quaint, and it's cozy, and it's home, but it's not home, but it'll do and something beautiful happens there.
But the Christmas story is not so simple.
Because the stable where Mary and Joseph laid the baby Jesus was not like our modern stables. It was not set off a bit on the property, a little ways removed from the inn itself. It was, from our best understanding, the basement. It was the ground floor of the inn, a place where the animals could just walk in and cozy up under the rooms where their masters slept. Rooms, we must remind ourselves, that were full to the brim, so full that not even one more small little family could be crammed into them.
That means that there was an entire inn full of persons who heard the baby Jesus cry that night. An entire inn full of persons who heard Mary's labor pains. An entire inn full of persons who, unlike the innkeeper, did not make room for a newborn baby. For them, the manger was good enough. They, in their weariness, could not be disturbed.
And in Bethlehem, at the time of the census, these were not merely persons; these were family, friends. These were persons that Joseph probably knew and who probably knew Joseph. Friends from high school. The neighbors he had grown up with. Everyone was coming home to this place to be counted, and though there were probably a few who were just traveling through, some were there to stay - settled into a place near home.
And not one of them even came down to see what the ruckus was. Not one of them stopped by to see the newborn baby.
We can't say that oh, of course it happened. How could it not? Because that seems like the kind of detail that God would have given us in the story if it were true. Doesn't it? It seems like the kind of thing He could make a point about, that would show us something about what it means to be drawn to the baby Jesus at Christmastime. To...push aside stigma and rumors and questionable appearances and forget that you're supposed to be socially shunning this guy whose wife-to-be is pregnant by someone other than him and to go and see the baby Jesus anyway. To...give up a little bit of your comfort to make more room for Him. To...lose a little sleep because you just can't stand to miss something so beautiful that is happening so close to where you lay your head.
My imagination just runs wild. There are so many good and beautiful and wonderful stories that I want to dream about what it must have been like to be in the inn that night, to be so close to the baby Jesus that all it would take would be to just go downstairs. Make an excuse - say that your donkey needs water or something. Anything. How cool would it have been to be in the inn that night, that night when a real life baby was born, even if you didn't know at the time that it was Jesus?
And yet, not a whisper. Not a word. Not one mention in all of God's story about a single other person who was in that over-full inn that night. Not one mention, from a God who is not the type of God to leave anyone out of His story, no matter how small.
And so, I just wonder. I do. I wonder about that inn and all those persons in it. All that family, all those friends, all that home that is not home, that familiar that estranges itself. I just wonder.