“He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him.”
These are the some of the hardest days of the year for a kid. Christmas is coming...you don't feel like going to school and when you get there, everything is pointing towards Christmas.
Your friends talk about their wish lists and you count the days until Christmas break. Who can learn in that?
So this morning I open the little door on the advent calendar and it's a man. An older man who's face I do not recognize. I don't know who he is or why he is standing outside the cave where Jesus is lying in that manger. He seems to really want to go inside but he is hesitant. He has been here before and was unable to get past this point. There is something about coming face to face with the baby-Savior that freezes him in fear.
Finally Joseph comes out and offers his hand. The old man looks bewildered at Josephs offering of friendship and he pauses a long moment before reaching out. The man's eyes stay sullen and focused on their hands, he won't look Joseph in the eye. Joseph reaches in and whispers something in the man's ear. I can't hear the words but I see a look of relief, mixed with sadness on the man's face. Joseph motions toward the low entrance to the cave and the man bows down in order to enter, almost having to crawl. I walk over to the doorway and peer in, unnoticed but curious.
The man sees Mary in the corner, sleeping on some straw with her coat laid over top. He breaks down into tears. "I'm sorry Mary...I'm so sorry. I had no idea, I didn't know." Mary rubs the sleep from her weary eyes and smiles a wistful smile.
"It's okay...really. It's okay. We are okay here and we appreciate your generosity..." "No" the old man says with a wave of his hand, "It wasn't generous, it was convenient and nothing more. I had my own quarters at the inn, and my children are grown and gone and so I have extra rooms, and I could have invited you there but I didn't. I didn't realize..."
Mary has walked slowly to the man by this point and she takes his old gnarled hand in hers, "Sir, you gave us this place, and we needed a place right away. It turned out okay...we are fine. He is fine..." With this the old man breaks down in sobs. He'd been worried. He was sleepless after seeing the star and those shepherds showing up. He knew he'd made a mistake, and he only now understood the gravity of his error. "If I could do it again," the old man whispers between tears, "I would give you my own home. I would have invited you in."
Then it hits me. I know who this man is! It's him, it's the innkeeper! The first man to say no to Jesus! "What is he doing here?" I wonder to myself. (As if I have any more right to be here than he does.) The old man is struggling to keep his composure. The weight of his decision earlier in the evening has hit him full force. He struggles to find words in the face of Mary's tenderness and Joseph's welcoming forgiveness.
Finally he clears his throat and says, "You said He is fine...could I see Him?" Mary smiles lovingly and touches the old man’s hand. "Of course" she smiles, He is right over here..." Mary leads the innkeeper toward a small cut-out in the cave, where the manger has been placed. The innkeeper lowers his head as Mary pulls back a small coat, hung over the doorway to give the sleeping infant some darkness and privacy. The man is slow to raise his glance from the floor. Mary senses his trepidation but maybe she senses some kindness too. She touches his elbow and whispers "It's okay, really.” Her voice is soft and gentle and almost lyrical. It breaks the last vestige of hardness and shame and embarrassment that the old man held and he begins to cry openly and freely. He drops to his knees by the side of the manger and looks at the sleeping Savior of the world. His sobs are muffled but audible none the less. Maybe he had a dream or maybe seeing the star and the humble visitors coming and going throughout the evening made him realize who this was who was actually sleeping in his sheep pen.
Whatever it is, he realizes it now. This child is special. This child is from above, and he had the chance to offer him his best and he turned him away. Maybe he knew instinctively he would forever be known as the innkeeper who said "No room." Whatever is ripping through his tortured brain, he is sorrowful over it. He wipes the tears from his eyes and looks up at Mary and Joseph. "I have four children, all grown now. I have 17 grandchildren, so...I know how to do it, and I was wondering..." "Of course,"
Mary interrupts, "Of course you can."
The old man smiles broadly through his tears, and reaches into the manger and lifts the infant-King into his tired arms. The baby stirs and opens his dark eyes. The man breaks into soft tears as he draws the little bundle into his chest. The old man's beard is long and a few stray strands touch the baby's arms and he looks quizzically at the unknown object. The man whispers softly as the baby nestles into his robe..."I am sorry. I am so sorry. I didn't know... I just didn't know who you were or why you came. I had such a chance to give you something and I didn't do it. I wish I could have that moment over again. I would give you my best, little baby...my best".
The man's tears fall unapologetically onto the manger where the infant king was lying just moments before. A long minute passes and then the baby reaches up one tiny arm and touches the man randomly on his lips. The baby holds a stare for a long while and the man softly kisses the tiny hand that has explored the place where the whisper was coming from. In that moment, the man is undone.
The mistake of not giving Jesus a place weighs enormous on him now. He says it one more time in a voice hoarse with sadness, "I am sorry Jesus, sorry I didn't make a place for you". The baby yawns the tiniest yawn and falls back to sleep. The man smiles a slight smile as the love of this child penetrates his chest and into his soul, and suddenly the old man turns to look me in the eye with a desperate and piercing gaze. "Tell everyone about me. No one should ever say no," he says. Placing Jesus gently back in his manger, the old man stands up and walks off into the night.