The Shadow of the Inn

–December of 1997

The Shadow of the Inn

It was on Christmas in my first pastorate that I heard Johnny’s story.  Johnny was a grade school boy, big in body but sadly slow in mind and movement.  He was good-natured and kind, thoughtful in almost every way.  Though other children ridiculed Johnny, it was always Johnny who was ready to take up for a smaller child and to stand in his stead in front of the schoolyard bully.  It was Johnny who was always willing and ready to share his lunch with anyone who had forgotten his.  Johnny’s heart was always large enough to include anyone that wanted or needed his love, though he was often shut out by others.

It was nearing Christmas, and Johnny’s church was making plans for its annual program.  All the children were assigned an appropriate part.  Of course, Johnny was always given the shortest role possible.  His slowness of speech and learning difficulties really allowed him nothing else.  This year’s assignments came easy, and Johnny was to be the Innkeeper.  It was a role that only had ten words, and even Johnny could master that.

Finally the rehearsals were over, and the night of the pageant arrived.  The church was crowded with proud mothers and fathers, as well as many visiting guests.  The children stood, nervously fidgeting behind the make-shift curtain.  The cardboard inn was in its place, as well as the stable and manger scene.  Johnny was taken to his position by the prompter and told to stand very still until Mary and Joseph knocked on the door.

The curtain finally opened.  Mary and Joseph started down the center aisle and stood with sobriety and uncertainty in front of the inn door.  Finally Joseph knocked on the door.  The door opened, and with a gruff voice Johnny shouted, “What do you want?”

“We need lodging.”

“Seek it elsewhere.  The inn is filled.”

“But sir we’ve sought everywhere in vain, and we have traveled so far.”

“There is no room.  Go away.”

“But oh, kind innkeeper, my wife is expecting; and the moment of birth is upon her.  We need your help.”

Johnny relaxed.  He lost sight of the crowd and stood looking gently down at Mary.  Finally the prompter whispered from the wing, “Be gone!  Be gone!” shouted Johnny automatically.  Joseph took Mary by the arm and slowly moved away.  But Johnny did not go back inside his little cardboard inn.  He stood at the head of the center aisle and watched sadly as the couple moved away.  Tears began to run down his cheeks.  Suddenly he lifted his hand and stepped down the aisle after them and said, “Don’t go!  You can have my room.”

A wave of laughter ran through the congregation.  Then silence filled the sanctuary.  Then tears began to fall freely as every listener received the impact of Johnny’s message.  Johnny had made room.

There is no question in my mind that Luke penciled with inspired deliberateness the brief story of rejection at the crowded inn the night that our Saviour was born.  The shadows cast by that filled-to-capacity inn have prophetically fallen across the full length of man’s history.  The Son of God found no room that night; and, sadly, He finds little room today.  The Scripture tells us we have turned as it were our faces from Him.  He sought to fill our lives with His presence, but we rejected Him.  We spat in His face, we plowed His back with a scourge, we spiked Him naked to a cross and mocked His anguish until the sun hid its face in shame.  Yet despite all of our rejection, God made peace through the blood of that cross.  Even now, though He stands in the shadow of the inn that spells rejection, He patiently knocks at the door of our heart, seeking entrance.  Will you make room?

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