First Come, First Served? Part 1 of 4

Subtitle: A reflection for the 4th day of the Christmas season

A decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph went from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went…with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (And there) she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2.1, 3-5, 7, adapted).


“I wish I had been able to give them a room,” the innkeeper, sadly, repeatedly muttered to himself. 

Thirty years before, darkness having fallen hard on the earth, Mary and Joseph appeared on the doorstep of his Bethlehem inn. They had come from Nazareth in response to the Roman emperor’s decree that a census be taken. They were exhausted by their journey. Mary was pregnant. Joseph begged for a room.

“I’m sorry,” first, wringing his hands, then shrugging, he held them aloft in that universal sign of perplexity, “all the rooms have been taken by others! First come, first served! There’s nothing I can do!”

He, however, was not without compassion. He sent them to the stable. At least, they would have some shelter from the frigid night air. ‘Twas a good thing, too. For that very night Mary gave birth to a son.

Now, again, thirty years later, the one born that night has grown up and gained public renown as a great teacher and wonder worker. People throughout the land speak his name, “Jesus of Nazareth,” with reverence. Older folks call him “Messiah.” The younger crowd, “Superstar.”

Whenever people come to see the site where Jesus was born, they point at him, “He’s that innkeeper! He’s the one who sent Mary, a poor, pregnant woman, to give birth among the animals and to lay Jesus in a filthy feeding trough!”

He protests to anyone who will listen, “I was not heartless! I could’ve sent them away, but I didn’t!”

Still, in moments of solitude, he murmurs, sadly, repeatedly, “I wish I had had room.”

More to come…

© 2020 PRA

Illustration: Mary and Joseph at the Bethlehem Inn, James Tissot (1836-1902)

2 thoughts on “First Come, First Served? Part 1 of 4

  1. First come first served! You had me at the title Paul!! Can’t wait for the next part…because in this first part, there’s shame and some resentment. But if all the rooms were booked, the Innkeeper still found a place for them. Not an ideal place of course, but still a place.


  2. Yes, Loretta, there is shame and resentment in the tone and texture of this post as I sought to dream my way into the story of the birth of Jesus and the aftermath, employing more contemporary images (e.g., folk visiting the place where Jesus was born and referring to him as “Superstar”). And in this way, this post, as 1 of 4, I intended as the tee-up or prelude to all that follows. And, yes, the stable wasn’t ideal, still is was a place. On second thought, perhaps this speaks to those moments in our lives when we cannot respond as fully as we’d like, but do the best that we can.


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