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The Inn Keeper's Wife
(A Christmas Reflection)

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The Inn Keeper's Wife
A Christmas Story 

Read : Luke 2: 1-7  

You can't see it from here, but we have quite a large inn - two big common rooms and even two private bedrooms upstairs that we can rent out, plus the family rooms on the top floor. It's not the most expensive inn in Bethlehem, but it's not the cheapest either.  

It's a bit in from the walls, so we don't get all the rough guards from the camel trains and so on. We've built up a good reputation and quite a number of regulars over the years, and nothing much has changed much since my grandmother or my mother ran the inn.  

My grandmother's family came from the east somewhere and settled here, so unlike most of our neighbours we're not Jewish, and we don't follow their God, or their holy rules, we just concentrate on running our inn. 

A stranger came to our inn today looking for my mother Rebecca, but she died many years ago. My daughter and her husband have been running the inn since I retired, so, thinking I might know the man, they brought me to the inn to see him. 

The man was a stranger to me too, but he said he'd come to say thank you to mother, who had helped some friends of his years ago. Well, I couldn't have been more than about 10 when it all happened, but this is the story I pieced together from what I saw, and from what mother and sisters told me. 

It was a cold, dark winter's night, and Bethlehem was busier than it had ever been, with people arriving from everywhere for the census - because the law said they had to return to their family's ancestral home town to register.  

My mother was sleeping - she had to get up before daylight to make the breakfast bread for our inn's guests, so she always went to bed early. 

She was woken up by banging on the door downstairs. She could hear father talking to a man outside, but not what they were saying. There wasn't a spare space even the size of a denarius anywhere in the whole inn, because of the number of people who were already there that night.  

I'd even taken several regulars to stay with my two married sisters, so there wasn't even anywhere else to send anyone.  

Knowing father's only option was to turn the man away, mother expected to hear the door quickly closed again, but the talking continued. After a while, wondering what was going on, she went downstairs to find out. She heard the stranger at the door begging for a place to stay. Father seemed to be on the verge of telling him to come in - though goodness knows where he thought he was going to put him !  

So Mother stepped forward to send the man away, but as she started speaking, she heard a moan from outside. The man turned and went to a young woman waiting in the shadows. As he spoke to her, she doubled up in pain. Mother could see that she was pregnant, and would have her baby very soon. No wonder they couldn't find any where to stay. Even if an inn had the room, no Jewish innkeeper would risk making everyone and everything in his inn unclean, when the woman gave birth.  

The man turned back to father, begging him again to help them. As mother looked at them, she could think of only one place which wasn't crammed with people - our stable. She dismissed it though as totally unsuitable, thinking she certainly wouldn't want her daughter giving birth in a stable. But, then she changed her mind, realising that if it was me out there with nowhere to stay, she'd be grateful if someone offered me even a stable to sleep in. 

So mother whispered to father, who looked a bit askance at her suggestion, but since he couldn't come up with a better one, he agreed, and told the strangers. The man gave a huge smile, and mother heard him thank his God, before they followed father round the side of the inn to the stable.  

We thought it was a strange sort of God whose followers would be grateful to have their baby born in a stable, but then we've never really understood our Jewish neighbours or their God. Dismissing it from her mind, Mother ran back upstairs to wake me, telling me to go and fetch my two sisters who lived nearby. Then I was to come back and start preparing something for our newest guests to eat. 

There was a midwife in Bethlehem of course, but even if the couple had the money to pay her (and it didn't look as though they did,) there was no way she'd come out to them tonight. The wife of the city's richest merchants was expecting a baby at any time. He was paying the midwife a lot to stay with his wife until the birth, so nothing and no-one would persuade the midwife to go anywhere until that baby was born.  

Luckily, my grandmother had been a midwife in her own country and had passed her skills on to my mother.  

Both of my sisters had helped mother at several birthings, and they both already had children of their own - Abigail had two girls, and Tabitha had a girl and two baby boys. Mother was sure that with the help of my sisters, she would be able to help the young woman in our stable.  

Mother rushed around the inn gathering the things she needed, and very soon, I arrived back with my sisters. She explained to them about the strangers, and they all went out the stable to give what help they could, while I stayed behind in the kitchen. 

The woman, Mary was her name, was very close to her time, and her husband Joseph was pacing up and down, wringing his hands, and looking terrified and helpless, as men always do at such times. They shooed Joseph and father out of the stable, telling them to go and get something to eat from me, while mother set about helping Mary. It didn't take long before Mary gave birth to a baby boy, and Joseph went rushing back to Mary, all smiles, as soon as he heard the baby crying. As mother cleaned up the new baby, she felt very sorry for Mary. They even had to put the baby in the hay manager, because there was no where else for him. A girl should have her family, especially her mother, with her at a time like that, but this poor girl had no-one.  

From one or two things that were said, my sisters got the impression that Mary had "trouble at home", and that although she hadn't exactly been thrown out by her parents, they really didn't want her there, and neither did Joseph's parents. We thought it was a bit strange when Mary named the baby, because usually the father does that. Then she didn't even name the baby after Joseph, which made us all wonder whether he really was the baby's father. However, Mary and Joseph looked happy together, and Joseph seemed just as delighted by the baby as Mary, so we couldn't exactly ask her them it. 

We all felt sad for Mary and Joseph, because they had no family to celebrate the birth with them, or to bring them the traditional gifts. Therefore, mother and father came back to the inn to find some wine they could share, and to see whether there was anything to eat yet. 

When we all came back to the stable a little later, the yard was full of dirty, smelly shepherds, who seemed to have somehow heard about the baby. They kept saying he was someone special, and that they had come to say hello to him. Actually, the word they used was "worship", which seemed very odd to me - but they really weren't making any sense at all, with their talk of angels and music in the sky. We didn't bother trying to understand what they were talking about, just concentrated on sharing out the food and wine with everyone. Then, since there wasn't anything more we could do that night, my sisters went home again, while mother and I went back to bed, leaving father with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. 

Mother spent what was left of the night worrying what our paying guests would think of the shepherds, so when we got up in the morning, she was relieved to discover that the shepherds had already left.  

Mary and Joseph stayed in our stable for the next few days, but as Bethlehem gradually emptied of visitors, a friend of father's, was able to help them find a small house to rent on the other side of town. 

After that Mother and I would have liked to visit Mary and the baby, but the inn kept us so busy that we never could find the time. Of course we heard reports of them sometimes - the baby was thriving, Joseph was working as a carpenter to pay their bills, they'd had some strange visitors. In fact, the stories we heard, said their visitors looked like kings. I don't suppose they were, but they did have so many camels that they blocked the whole of Mary and Joseph's street, which caused trouble with their neighbours.  

Then, a few days after their visitors left, Mary and Joseph disappeared in the middle of the night, without saying goodbye to anyone. It wasn't because they couldn't afford the rent, because they'd just paid some weeks in advance, we even heard they'd paid in gold - although I don't suppose that was true. 

We did wonder what had happened and where they'd gone, but just a few days later troops of Herod's soldiers arrived, and killed all the baby boys in the area, including both of Tabitha's sons. Neither she nor mother ever really recovered from that. So what with trying to help them, and helping father run the inn, and doing all the cooking, it was a long time before I even thought about Mary and Joseph again. We never did hear anything else about them after they disappeared, and as the years passed, I thought about them less and less.  

Then out of the blue, this stranger arrived at our inn, asking for my mother. 

He had an interesting story to tell - he was a friend of Mary's, but he had been away travelling. He was home briefly, but soon going travelling again with his friend Paul. The man said he had come to our inn looking for my mother, to keep a promise he had made to Mary.  

He said Mary had often told him how she had wished she had been able to go back and thank us for our kindness to her and Joseph, but she'd never been able to. Before she died, he had promised her he would try to find our inn, to thank us on her behalf - and so here he was.  

We asked what had happened to Mary's baby, and he told us had grown up to be the man Jesus, who had been famous a few years ago, as a healer and miracle worker. Well, even we had heard the stories about him, and knew that he had been crucified for saying he was the King of the Jews.  

Then the man - Luke was his name - explained to us all about Mary's son Jesus. Luke told us who Jesus' father really was, how special Jesus was, and what his life and death meant for everyone. It was amazing to hear, but strange too, because the shepherds had told us that Jesus was special, when he was just been born. But we didn't know that it was true, or why he was special, until Luke told us today. 

Ruth Gillett, Reflective Worship


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