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There is a story of the innkeeper played by a boy named Wally that has drifted into legends and more sermons than can be named. Wally was taller and slower than most of the other kids around him. The other kids liked him because he always stuck up for the smaller kids on the playground.
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The play was going along well. Mary and Joseph arrived on time that evening, and no sheep had forgotten their ears. Mary and Joseph approached the Inn and knocked to inquire. Everyone in the audience wanted to help, and finally after a while the teacher shouted the line from offstage.
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In fact some have used the historical evidence that some poor homes in the 1 st century may have housed the animals and the family. They argue the guestroom was the main room of the house, and the animals were there because a lowly person welcomed Mary, Joseph and most of all the Christ Child right into their life. This heroic innkeeper could be closer to the truth, but the real truth is that we have some need for this innkeeper, this welcome of God among us was a good person.
We want this character to be more than reluctant, because somehow this plain character is someone we can identify with. The innkeeper is just a regular old person who stumbles into the advent story. I went and saw Star Wars this week and it is chalk full of heroes and characters I love. However, I think Star Wars is so popular because it has characters that are flawed.
Even the ones with unbelievably different abilities, still have imperfections. And millions of people are flocking to see the movie because we want to see what happens to our favorite characters by the end. We want to know if they can be vindicated from their mistakes, because we too hope our mistakes do not determine our final outcome.
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William Sloan Coffin was renowned preacher, and he points to the reluctant character of the innkeeper as one person we all can identify with. Coffin shares that perhaps the innkeeper is reluctant and not as gracious as he would have wished at first. In offering the stable he later realizes just how special the small child born in the back of his house was. Coffin goes on to say that perhaps we meet the innkeeper again in the gospels. In Luke 22, there is an owner of a house that is asked for his space for the last supper.
We have 3 versions of the innkeeper and all are versions our culture has created: 1. A wall builder who puts Mary out, instead of risking ritual impurity.
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A hero who welcomes in a young couple to give birth to a miracle. A reluctant participant in an amazing story who is vindicated in the end. The innkeeper is us, we have created a character to determine where we fit into the Christmas story. During this busy season may our hearts be open, so we may be the hero innkeepers we are called to be. When God comes down: An advent study for adults. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
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