The Inn – Chapter 4
This story came to me one evening while sitting inside a ‘living Christmas tree’ at Fellowship in the Pass Church in Beaumont, California. It’s a long story and you’re about to read one, so I’ll explain later.
But it occurred to me that no one had ever really tried telling the nativity story from perhaps one of the most misunderstood characters in a relevant Biblical story – the Inn Keeper. I’ve had a few people read it and give input over the years, and I even tried having a theater-type guy take a look at it, but he never got around to it due to his schedule. (Yeah, you know who you are!) So what you read may not be polished as well as it could be. But I did feel it necessary to share this story this Christmas season.
Each chapter will follow in it’s own file.
And so here is my take on the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The rest of the afternoon was busy, but uneventful. Elisheva worked to prepare supper with her maidens while Chaim tended to the various minutia that came with running an inn. Guests came and went while performing their personal business, and as the afternoon turned toward evening a welcome cool settled over the valley as a breeze swept in from the Mediterranean Sea.
Elisheva was almost finished setting the table for supper when Chaim came in from his workshop. Tehelia followed her mother into the dining area carrying a bowl full of olives, and he immediately noticed the absence of his sons.
“It’s almost dark and they are not home yet,” Chaim growled. “I let them have some fun and they have proven not to be worthy of the trust I put in them.”
His wife shot him a disapproving look, but Chaim had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when he heard a commotion in the outer room. He stepped through the door to see two of the inn’s patrons entering, followed by their three children. Close behind were Ethan and Shimon, carrying an armful of goods that evidently belonged to his guests.
“Please forgive the boys, sir,” said the man. “We were returning from the bazaar and were overloaded. Your sons recognized us as your guests and asked if they could help us. I hope you do not mind that I delayed them.”
Chaim shifted his gaze from the guest to his sons, giving them a slight smile. “It is not a problem at all,” he said, a tinge of pride of voice. “They have done as they should have. They have done well.”
A look of relief washed over both boys, as they knew they were likely to be in trouble for being late. But they now saw that helping this guest was not only the right thing to do, but had also saved their skins.
Ilan and Ofra exited the staircase and seated themselves at the table, joining the rest of the family as they prepared for the meal. Chaim took his place opposite Ilan at the other end of the table, with Elisheva to his immediate left. Ethan and Shimon returned from upstairs and sat to his right while Tehila squeezed in between her mother and grandmother.
Chaim looked at Elisheva, knowing what she expected of him and what he really didn’t care to do. But he also knew that with her father present, he could just as easily pass the buck.
“Ilan, would you say a blessing over the meal for us?” asked Chaim.
“I am honored” said Ilan and bowed his head. “Jehova, God of Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, bless this food and the hands that prepared it. Bless those who provide for this family. Speed the bringing of your Messiah to your children. Amen.”
As Ilan finished his prayer, he opened his eyes and looked at Chaim, and the two shared a knowing look that some of that prayer was meant for his son-in-law. Chaim looked at Ilan briefly before looking away and reaching for a dish. But before he could get any food to his plate, a knock came at the door. The family looked at each other, but Chaim quickly rose to answer it.
He opened the door swiftly, slightly upset that his supper had been disturbed. But has he looked out into the street, all he saw were a man and his very pregnant wife who was seated on a donkey. As mad as he wanted to be, all he could feel was helpless because he knew the man’s coming question and the answer he would have to give.
“Sir, my name is Joseph and this is my wife, Mary,” explained the visitor. “We have come from Nazareth to take part in the census as I am a native of this city. Do you have any lodging for us this night?”
Chaim sighed. He wanted to help and could see how much discomfort the man’s wife was in. But he also knew that he had no rooms left.
“I’m sorry, but we have nothing left,” Chaim said apologetically. “The census you are here to take part in has filled the city and every room that I have.”
Joseph looked at Mary, who gave her husband a reassuring smile. A moment later Joseph looked back at Chaim, thanked him for the information and then turned his donkey around into the street.
Chaim watched for a moment, his trance broken when Elisheva’s hand gently came to rest on his shoulder. He looked down at her and they locked eyes when inspiration sprang into Chaim’s brain.
“Joseph!” he called after the couple. “We have no rooms, but we do have a stable where you can water your donkey and rest on something softer than the ground.”
Joseph stopped and turned, a smile coming to his face. He looked to Mary and received a small nod as if to say that it would be fine.
“Thank you sir.” said Joseph.
Chaim thought for a moment while Elisheva just looked at his face from the side, then turning to gaze at the young couple with him. “I will take you out there now,” he said. “Elisheva, prepare two portions for them and send them out to the stable.”
Elisheva looked back at Chaim and he turned to meet her eyes. She was beaming with a smile of pride and happiness he had not found in her face in some time. “I will have them shortly,” she said, kissing his cheek and striding off to the kitchen.
“I will be back after I get them settled,” Chaim said closing the door slowly. He reopened it just a crack. “And make sure to save me some of your mother’s Kugel,” he added sternly. The remark made Ethan snap his to look at his father, who was starring right at him.
Without missing a beat, Tehila quipped, “That means you big brother!”
Everyone at the table chuckled and Ofra leaned in to laughingly shush the child as Chaim closed the door.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
It was short walk from the inn to the cave outside of town where he kept the animals. It wasn’t much, but the animals that were there were enough to keep the family well nourished and clothed. A few cows, a handful of sheep and few dozen chickens were kept in various pens. It was evident that Shimon had been by earlier and taken care of things, and Chaim was pleased that his son was finally showing the responsibility he knew was present in the boy … somewhere.
There was one empty stall that had housed a donkey before Chaim sold it a few weeks earlier. So it was a perfect for Joseph, Mary and their transportation. He led them inside the shallow cave, opening the empty stall for them.
On the short walk there, Chaim and Joseph talked about the couple’s journey to Bethlehem. Joseph had said that it was largely uneventful, but that he was very concerned that Mary would give birth any day, if not any minute. Joseph had repeatedly praised God for His provision and for how He had taken care of him and his wife. And as Chaim listened he had mixed feelings. On one hand he remembered the enthusiasm he once felt in his younger days when his father and mother displayed that same faith in God. On the other, he remembered the pain and despair at losing his parents and blaming God for all of it.
“You make yourself as comfortable as you can,” said Chaim, “and I will get some fresh straw for you and your donkey.”
“Thank you sir for this,” said Joseph. “May Jehova bless you for it. How much will we owe you to stay here this night?”
Chaim returned with a large armful of straw and set it down. He looked at the two and then to the ground. “Nothing,” he said solemnly. “You should not have to stay here, but this is all we have. But to ask you to pay for this would be wrong.”
Joseph smiled, looking back to Mary who was adjusting herself onto the mound of hay. “Bless you sir all the more!” exclaimed Joseph, turning back to Chaim.
Just about then the sound of people approaching could be heard. Both men looked back toward the city to see Elisheva, Shimon and Tehila coming toward them. The children carried two plates of food, bread and water while their mother had a pair of blankets.
“The nights have been warm, but maybe these blankets can help make it more comfortable for you out here,” said Elisheva, handing the blankets to Joseph. “And the children have food and drink for you both.”
Joseph put the blankets aside so he could take the plates of food. As the children got close enough to hand them to him, Tehila froze. She stood holding the plate and staring at Mary as though she had seen a ghost. Joseph looked at her, puzzled, stooped and pried the plate loose from her small hands. As he did so, her gaze slowly turned to him. And much to everyone’s surprise, her eyes got even wider.
“You’re his daddy,” Tehila said in a whisper-like voice.
Joseph grinned at the child and stood up. “Yes. Well, I will be soon, I hope,” he said, turning to hand the plate to his wife. Turning back, he took the other plate from Shimon and moved to sit down next to Mary.
“I hope so too,” said Mary. The group shared a laugh as they could tell the mother-to-be was more than ready to give birth.
Tehila was still in shock when her mother lifted her into her arms. Elisheva looked at her as if to ask if something was wrong, but Tehila just looked blankly past her at the visitors.
“Well, we will leave you to rest,” said Elisheva.
“Thank you and bless you sir,” said Joseph. “Thank for letting us stay here.”
“You’re welcome,” Chaim replied. “The timing of your arrival is unfortunate, but I’m glad we can offer you some comfort. Besides, I don’t see you two causing us a problem or raising a lot of noise.”
“No sir, we most certainly will not,” said Joseph.
Chaim and his family turned to walk back to the inn, with Tehila looking over Elisheva’s shoulder at the couple in the stable.
“What are you looking at?” asked her mother.
“That’s his mommy and daddy,” whispered Tehila.
“Who?” said Elisheva.
“The baby.” Said Tehila.
“What baby?” said Elisheva.
“The baby in my dream,” she said, her whisper becoming more excited. “The baby that made everyone so happy!”
Elisheva looked at her daughter in shock. As they continued to walk she slowly turned to look at Chaim, who was already looking at her. Elisheva’s face dawned a smile while Chaim’s eyes rolled back in his head.
“It was a dream woman, nothing more,” he said.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Chaim stopped walking, turned and looked back to the stable. Joseph and Mary were eating and chatting, both smiling and content. He paused a few moments before turning back to his wife. “Pretty sure,” he said matter of factly. “Let’s get home. Not all of us have eaten dinner yet.”
As they turned and continued their walk, Shimon was looking into the sky. When he stumbled over a rock in the road, Chaim caught him by the arm to steady him.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
“The stars,” Shimon replied, pointing upwards. “They’re very bright tonight, especially that one.”
Continuing to walk, Chaim looked up and saw the one star shining brighter than all the others, almost as if shining on the city itself. In fact, if he didn’t know better, it would seem that it was larger than all the others as well.
“It does seem large my son,” he said. “But it must be some sort of season or sign for those who know what it means.”
A few moments passed and Tehila’s voice cut through the air. “Maybe it’s the star for the May-Si-uh?”
“Maybe,” said Elisheva, kissing her daughter’s cheek. “Maybe.”
Chaim just kept walking, looking straight ahead and unwilling to show the conflict inside his head. That even now, despite being a devoted skeptic and pessimist of God’s promises, he was starting to wonder just what it all meant – if anything at all.