On a cold winter day nearly two millenniums ago two weary travelers entered the small town of Bethlehem. The man leading a donkey pushed his way through a crowd of noisy people that filled the narrow dusty, streets of the ancient town. The sun was slowly slipping into the western sky and soon would fail to give light or warmth. The man quickened his pace. He needed to find shelter in an inn for his young wife who was heavy with her first child. They had traveled many miles over the last few days. He chided himself for not reaching Bethlehem earlier in the day but the roads had been filled with people, donkeys and all sorts of goods and caravans heading for Bethlehem.
Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, had ordered a census and it seemed like all the people from the far-flung corners of the world were heading for Bethlehem. He reached the first inn and after speaking softly to his companion he entered the open door. He soon returned to her side and shook his head. He continued on down the street where the answer was always the same. "No room. "No room." The shadows were beginning to lengthen and the man's heart began to despair as he approached the last inn at the edge of town. Most of the crowd were scattered, safe and secure in their lodgings. Only a few stray dogs loped along the streets. The inn was not much to look at small and shabby half hidden in a cliff with the light of one candle shinning in it's solitary window. The man prayed that a place could be found here for them and their tired donkey. They did not need much, for they were poor and used to making the best of what life had to offer.
He looked at his young's wife's weary face, smiled and patted her hand then knocked on the heavy wooden door of the inn. It was a few minutes before the door opened and a large man filled the entrance blocking out the light of the room behind. The innkeeper peered out into the darkness at the man, "If you've come for a room? We have none. "Please sir," the man replied. "My wife needs to rest. She is nearing her time of confinement." The innkeeper looked closer at the donkey and the small bundle of rags that huddled over it's back. Slowly the bundle moved and he looked into the tired eyes of a young woman and she uttered a sigh that tore at his heart. The innkeeper rubbed his bushy beard. Then looking from the man to the woman replied. "There is a stable back behind the inn. It's more like a cave but is quite large and dry. My stable boy has just covered the ground with fresh sweet, hay. It's quite private and I'll give you a torch to find your way and give you some light." The young woman's smile of gratitude was so sweet that the innkeeper stood still and watched as her husband led the donkey across the courtyard.
Soon the sound of rough voices broke the stillness of the night and the innkeeper, remembering his other guests, quickly returned inside leaving the weary travelers alone in the night. If you were to meet the innkeepers of Bethlehem who shut their doors in the face of the Christ Child and his mother, what would you say to them? Would you be angry with them for their lack of kindness, for their eagerness to make money in the face of a very real need or would you feel a small twinge of guilt for having missed a similar opportunity. After all they were only doing their job. How many of us have turned away from a golden opportunity to invite the Holy Child of Bethlehem into our hearts and homes. I have often heard it said. "If I had only known?"
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