No room in the inn: Unsung heroes

Published 10:54 am Wednesday, December 27, 2017

was driving to Eastern Kentucky, my crappy car radio scanning for any station it could pick up. It settled on some obscure AM station where the DJ was stating a vitriolic diatribe on the Innkeeper. You know the one. Though he isn’t actually mentioned in the Bible, he’s the poor guy who was added to the Nativity Story, probably so more children could have starring roles in the annual Christmas play at church.

The characters go like this. You’ve got Joseph and Mary and their unborn child as the protagonists. Herod plays the villain. The cast is rounded out with supporting roles of shepherds, wise men, angels and assorted barnyard animals.

This DJ held the view that the Innkeeper was an even larger criminal than Herod. He pictured a hateful, Grinchy man who abused his power in an attempt to feel less small. “No room!” this Innkeeper would have sneered, gleeful to turn away a poor man and his pregnant wife. According to the man on the radio, the Innkeeper’s soul was damned to hell because he refused to make room, both for the couple and, apparently, for Jesus in his heart.

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This isn’t how I see it at all. Bethlehem was crazy crowded, what with the forced census and all. Imagine Hopkinsville during the August Eclipse, where people booked their rooms months and years in advance. Except these people weren’t going willingly, but instead because The Man in Rome was forcing them to. Rooms were scarce, as was food. People were excited to see relatives and friends for the first time in years, but they were stressed too, with the crowds and pickpockets and lack of water. We all get stressed traveling with our families too, don’t we? And we can stream old episodes of Friends while someone else drives the comfortable car or plane.

Mary and Joseph have walked over 100 miles from Nazareth, Mary only occasionally getting to rest on the donkey’s back. When they finally arrive, they’re dog-tired. Hot. Peckish. I can only imagine the picture they painted. Their worlds have been truly toppled, two people forced together in an untenable situation. That exhaustion and sheer terror that only two almost-parents feel evident on their faces. Mary hungry as only a pregnant woman can be, ready to eat the donkey if it would only stand still. Joseph probably a little pissed at her, because they would have been here a lot sooner if she hadn’t had to stop to pee so many times. It would have been totally human to be a bit short with the innkeeper when told the inn had no vacancies.

But the Innkeeper holds it together. He’s booked solid, he’s made his nut for the month, he has no obligation to these two, who clearly showed up a few days late and hadn’t planned in advance. But it seems he goes out of his way to find a solution. He has no room in the inn, but makes room in his heart for two strangers down on their luck. He finds for them space, shelter, safety. And that’s the real miracle of the story. The innkeeper is the unsung hero, the quiet champion of compassion. He’s the moral compass of the Nativity. And until that DJ got me thinking about him, I had missed the Innkeeper’s lesson for over four holiday decades.

It’s pretty simple. Make more room for others, both in your home and in your heart.

“Make room” are the first two words my daughter says most mornings. We have a way of waking up. I rise first, brew coffee, feed the cat, settle on the couch to meditate. David joins me around 6. Coffee is sipped, voices are quieted. A few minutes later, the sleepy voice calls from the other room. Make room. She’s giving us a heads-up to rearrange, to make a nest between us for her bed-warmed body. Soon we’re a puppy pile of limbs, blankets, coffee mugs, morning breath, too many creatures on a too small couch. There is not enough room, but there is more than enough room.

My point is this. We can always make more room. Even when it requires some shuffling about, some rearranging of limbs or furniture or comfort zone lines. We each of us have more than enough of what we truly need. The miracle happens when we set our selfish tendencies aside and look for those who have less, offer to share our bounty with strangers, smile and willingly make more room on the couch.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films.Send her a shout out at or play along at