The Innkeeper, a Christmas Story

innkeeperJacob was in a delighted panic, there were more people in his Inn than he had ever had before.  While giving thanks to the Romans would be condemned by the Temple authorities he was certainly thankful for this emperor’s whim.  Now if only he could find time to sit down to enjoy all of those shekels he was collecting.  Sara, his wife, was busy in the kitchen cooking a meal for their paying guests and for their own abundant family who weren’t paying because his wife wouldn’t let him charge them.  Family, sometimes you can’t live without them but tonight he would like to try.

Now Jacob loved his kind and gentle Sara, but sometimes her kindness was irritating. After all Jacob had to provide for his family. His son, Isaiah, had only just reached manhood, although he was a big help to him tonight.  Isaiah was carrying water to all of the paying guests (let his relatives get their own) and taking care of the animals.  Jacob’s two girls were busy in the kitchen with their mother and while Elizabeth was still a little small she was working just as hard as her older sister, Rebecca.  Over all Jacob was very happy, his Inn was full and he had a box full of money. He should not only be able to pay the tax collector (May YHWH rain fire down on his head!) but also have sufficient money for the next several months.  There might even be enough left over to put a little aside for his daughters dowries.

Jacob was suddenly shaken out of his revere by a call from his son.

“Father, there are two more in the courtyard.”

Jacob threw up his hands and ran out to tell them that he had no more room and that they should move on.   When Jacob opened the door a tall man greeted him. A very pregnant young woman was perched on a donkey behind him.  Jacob had to admit she looked very tired and uncomfortable.

“Excuse me, my wife and I would like a room to spend the night.  If you don’t have a room a corner would do.  Mary, my wife, is expecting and she is very tired.  We have money to pay and I will take care of the donkey myself.”

“I’m sorry we don’t have any rooms,’ Jacob said, “and to be honest with you I don’t think there are rooms free anywhere else in Bethlehem right now.  This mandated census has filled all the Inns.  My suggestion would be that you go up into the hills above the city and find a cave.  At least it would be out of the wind.  Good night to you.”

“Jaaa…cob, Isaiah tells me there is a woman with child out there”.

Jacob turned around and groaned as he faced his wife Sara.   “Sara we don’t have any room! Where would we put them?”  Taking one look at his wife’s face he said “Oh no! I am not giving up my bed! I am tired and will need to get some sleep tonight if I am to deal with all of these people tomorrow!”

Sara patiently looked at her red-faced husband; she knew he wasn’t as hard-hearted as some thought he was, he just had to be nudged once in a while.  “Well we can’t turn out a pregnant woman (may the LORD bless her child!), she looks like she is going to deliver any time now!  This census is bringing people out on the roads that shouldn’t be there!  Don’t you dare send them to the caves!  She’s pregnant Jacob, there are thieves up there and they will be robbed or worse!  Do you really want that on your hands?  Jacob, money isn’t everything.”

Jacob groaned again.  “Well, where do you propose we put them?”

“Isaiah”, Sara called, “get me some blankets and a lamp.  Jacob, the stable has a corner that is warm and dry, and you won’t charge them either!”

The man at the door had been looking on as the Innkeeper and his wife argued and now said, “Please, we will be glad to pay, we have some of our own supplies, we just need a place to rest.”

“No,” Jacob sighed, “Sara’s right, we can’t charge you for a night in the stable.  Isaiah will take you around the back and help his mother get you settled.”  Isaiah ran up with the bedding.  “Take them around to the stable and fix the stall on the west wall, it’s the driest and warmest.  Then come back and help Rebecca take some warm food and wine out to our guests.”

The gentlemen started to protest, “No, sir, it is the least we can do.  If you need anything during the night just knock on the door at the back, Isaiah will be sleeping there tonight and he will do what he can.”

The man looked very relieved, “thank you all so very much, you are very kind.  This is Mary’s first child and we have traveled so very far today.  My name is Joseph and I am a carpenter, if you need anything repaired or need any work done while we are here I will be glad to do it.”   Talking softly to his young wife, who turns and smiles her thanks at the innkeeper, Joseph turns, takes the donkey’s lead and follows Isaiah.

Sara looks lovingly at her husband. “You old softy, I knew you couldn’t turn them away.”

“Go, woman, and prepare some food for these people.  At least I’ll be able to get that back room lintel fixed.  Oh yes, I’ll take him up on his offer, he is an honorable man and I won’t embarrass him, go, go!”  Jacob looks outside as he turns to close the door, “my goodness it is bright outside, almost like daylight, there must be a full moon.”

©Ruth Jewell, November 29, 2009

Blessings and Peace to all this Christmastide!

This story was written for the 2009 Christmas Eve Service and I offer it here to all of you as my Christmas Gift.

I Was a Stranger

Matthew 25:35b

. . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Yesterday was a strange day!  John and I are vacationing on a Caribbean Cruise and yesterday we visited Barbados.  It was supposed to be a quick day of shopping for gifts in the morning and then back to our ship, the MS Maasdam, for a swim and maybe a nap.  It’s a hard job but someone has to do it.  I hope you noticed I said “supposed to,” what happened was an adventure we never counted on and the discovery of being welcomed despite being a stranger in a strange land.

First of all you should know that John has developed a case of hay fever every time we reach shore; there is some type of plant bugging him so he needed more antihistamines.  So we get off the ship and head for the shuttles into the shopping district of Bridgetown.  After I paid the driver we got in and headed for town.  When we reach our destination John spots a pharmacy and we go in to get some Benadryl for his hay fever. And this when our day went wonky, as we are paying for it I discover I have lost my wallet. 

Do you know the sinking feeling you get when something goes terribly wrong and you are placed in very vulnerable position?  Well I never got that feeling.  I told John my wallet was gone along with my credit card, driver’s license and some money and all I said was “well that’s gone, do you still want to go shopping.”   I never expected to see the wallet again, I mean we are in the Caribbean which is not known for having the most honest population in the world, and these people are all poor and struggling.  While I would miss the $80, it loss wouldn’t kill me and my credit card would be turned off within the next couple of hours so that wasn’t that big a deal.  But to someone who probably makes less in a year than most people in the US make in a month that’s a lot of money and the card invaluable.  But for some reason I wasn’t the least bit worried. I was simply a little irritated about the trouble it would take to contact VISA

John suggests we go back to the drop off point and wait for the taxi to return, which the guy  would do simply as part of his route between the port and downtown.  As we sat under a tree, a man comes forward and asks if we would like to take a tour of the Island and we said “no we were waiting for the taxi that dropped us off.”  The man, whose name was Eric, asked us if we had lost a wallet, surprised, we said yes and asked how he knew.  Eric said the driver did find it and had looked all over for us but we had disappeared.  Eric told us that my wallet would be with the port police when we returned.  Eric told us to get into his tour van and he took us straight back to the port to retrieve my wallet and when we got there it was intact; cards and money all in place.  To thank the shuttle driver we gave him a large tip and to thank Eric we told him that we would like to take his tour.  So we and another couple who were just walking up got in and had the most wonderful morning going all around the Island of Barbados, which is really quite small, I think Eric said it was only about 150 sq miles, 14 miles wide and 17 miles long. 

We discovered that the couple, George and Marion, were also from Washington State, Port Ludlow to be exact, and we had a lot in common.  Eric told us he had two children, a boy and girl, and that he had lived in Bridgetown all of his life.  We saw Orchids at the Orchid Garden which was beautiful.  The Orchids were incredible but more than that it was simply a beautiful botanical garden with wonderful views of the farms in the center of the Island.  We stopped at Bats Hill beach where we wadded in the water and got silly as we picked up coral rock.  We saw a troop of monkeys with young ones trailing along.  The little ones apparently knew we had a camera because they immediately started jumping, running and falling over each other in their efforts to show off.  Actually they weren’t all that different from some other little ones I know.  After nearly 3 hours we returned to the port and our staterooms tired and trying to make sense of our amazing morning adventure.  What could have been a disaster turned into a time of welcoming and communion. 

So often we expect the worst of people and such self-fulfilling prophecies often come true, we get what we expect.  Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson that people everywhere are good, honest and hardworking, offering up kindness unlooked-for, resulting in lives touching each other in amazing ways that wouldn’t have happened any other way. 

In our interpretation of Mathew 25:35 we most often think of ourselves as being the ones doing the welcoming, or the delivering of kindness. We most often forget that receiving the welcome and generosity of another is a grace filled gift that opens our hearts as much as being the donor.   Yesterday I was the stranger in need and I was blessed with the gift of welcome and the company of new friends. 

I am not one who believes in coincidence but I do believe accidents are used by the Holy Spirit to touch people with grace and forgiveness in ways that could not happen any other way.  I accidentally dropped my wallet in a cab and as a result the lives of 5 people crossed and touched each other for reasons only the Holy Spirit knows.  The result for us was an adventure and lives briefly touching and gracing each other with friendship and charity.

Yesterday I was the stranger and the recipient; maybe tomorrow I will be the donor of the grace of welcome either way both offer grace, blessings and life to the recipients and receiver.    May all of you be blessed with the receiving or offering of the gift of welcome.

Ruth Jewell ©December 17, 2012


The One Body

Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12

Last week I received an e-mail, not a strange event in and of itself, but this was a message written to one person who then passed it on to me and a number of others because the sender felt the content was both interesting and important. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever received an e-mail that has passed around from person to person? I would bet you have! Now just suppose all of the other e-mails sent out were lost and only my message survived. Anyone coming after me and reading my e-mail would think “ah, this is a letter to Ruth, and for that reason my name becomes attached to that e-mail forever. Well that is what most theologians believe happened to the Letter to the Ephesians. It is believed this was a circular letter sent out to many congregations but the only one to survive is the one directed to the congregation in Ephesus.

Now that doesn’t change the fact that what is written Ephesians is any less important, but it does mean every community Paul was writing to was having issues about what it meant to be unified as the body of Christ. It also means this letter has a lot to say to us as Christians in the 21st century about how we are called to be unified as One in the Body of Christ.

I have always loved the idea of being part of a body, a community, and all the metaphors derived from a body image. A number of years ago now I enjoyed a skit, written by one of my former pastors, about the rebellion of body parts. The outline of the skit was the foot became tired of taking orders from the head and quit listening to it, then the hand and the rest of the bodies parts decided that they too weren’t going to listen to the head. Well to make a long story short the body kept falling down, smacking itself about, couldn’t get anywhere and was starving because it couldn’t eat. It wasn’t until all the parts began to listen to the head that the body started going places. Places important, you know like the dinner table or reaching out and helping someone else to their place at the table. Of course we all laughed at such a silly sight and thought how clever our pastor was for writing this play. But the important message wasn’t about how silly the premise was rather it was the message we all need to have a coordinating force in our lives, a message provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and right here in Ephesians 4:1-16.

In this scripture from Ephesians Paul is pleading, well actually begging us, to lead a worthy life holding each other in unity, with all the love and compassion, strength and gentleness we can create. What my pastor was trying to demonstrate is we can’t do that without Jesus at the head of this gangly entity we call the body of Christ. We as members of this Body are give gifts to use in building up the many parts that comprise our lives together as community, but we can’t use them without each other. Now I know I’m not an actual a foot, nor are any of you real hands of a strange kind of body. But, in a way we are those very parts and Paul identifies how those parts work, in Ephesians 4 and in 1 Corinthians 12.

You know we are fortunate to be have both of these scriptures because the two together call us to use the gifts given to us by the spirit to “equip the saints for their ministry,” live a life worthy of walking in the way of Christ, growing up in the spirit, and no longer being children, but rather mature members of the entire body of Christ. Wow that’s a big job and it would be difficult for any one person to do all of those tasks to keep the body growing. But no one person has to, or is supposed to do it all by themselves. That’s the beauty of being part of the community, the body of Christ, we work together. Paul is telling all of the churches, Ephesus included, and all who have come along since the first century that working together to bring about the Kingdom of God is way more fun and a lot easier than going it alone. If Paul had had a computer he would be sending e-mails like crazy.

Let me read to you a little from 1 Corinthians 12:

“14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. . . .

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers;”

Just as in Ephesians 4 Paul identifies the spirit given gifts to those who follow in the path of Jesus. And, each of those gifts together is important for the body to open up the Kingdom of God to the world. We may no longer be able to see the gifts of apostle or prophet among us but we do have evangelists, which we now call missionaries, and they still go out to those who haven’t heard the good news and through the example of their lives demonstrate what it means to be a Christian.

We still have pastors and teacher who work hard, here at home, to teach the gospel story, guide those whose faith are just forming, and try to keep our communities safe places to worship and praise God. I love William Barclay’s description of pastors and teachers found in commentary The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians; Pastors and Teachers . . .

“(are the) shepherd(s) of the flock of God … who bears God’s people on (their) heart(s), who feeds them with the truth, who seeks them when they stray away, and who defends them from all that would hurt their faith. And (that) duty is laid on every Christian that (they) should be … shepherd(s) to all (their) brethren.” (additions in parenthesis are mine)

That is our task, that is our call, does it mean we are all going to do it in the same way, no it doesn’t. Each of us has our own specific job to do amongst the whole body and if we don’t live into the gifts given to us, then whole body suffers. It also means that we together, the people of our local Churches, Regional Churches, the National Churches and the Global Churches must work together to be the Body of Christ in the world today and that includes uniting in spirit with the many other Christian Traditions. It also means welcoming all to our table people from all traditions just as Jesus did when he welcomed all to his table and to do it in joy and laughter, in pain and in sorrow.

In just over a month I will be starting a semester of study at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey Switzerland. The Ecumenical Institute is the educational arm of the World Council of Churches and I am honored to be chosen for this experience of a of a life time. John and I will be living in community and learning how to joyfully join in celebration and worship with individuals from Christian traditions from all over the world. So you see the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians has a special meaning for me. I am going to put what I’ve learned here in this culture into practice in a new culture.

But none of us has to move as far as John and I are going just to practice Paul’s words or the way of Christ. We do it in our neighborhoods, the communities around us by living and speaking what we believe. Paul says in verses 14-16

14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

It is up to us to show what we are made of, to be the body, to be the movement of wholeness, to do as Jesus would, in our everyday lives. That is all that is asked of us, it seems simple doesn’t it, but it isn’t and we can’t do it alone. We can do it only if we are united in the love of God, Christ, and Spirit; we can do anything when we work together as the one body of Christ.

Ruth Jewell ©August 9, 2012