Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)
To be perfectly honest business had not been good. You see, my wife and I found that we had some spare space once the children had grown up, got married and left home. My wife was a great cook and, well, I like to think of myself as a generous host. I was getting a bit slower – age you know – so the farming I used to do wasn’t as easy. So we decided just to keep a few animals in the stable beneath our living space and take in guests, become an inn. It’s hard changing jobs, learning new skills, from being a framer to an innkeeper. But that’s what I now am, an innkeeper.
As I say, business hasn’t been so good. So I can’t say that I was unhappy when those Romans under the Governor Quirinius decided to have a snap registration of all the citizens of the country. Nor was I unhappy when they said that everyone had to go to their home town to be registered. You see, Bethlehem is my home town, so my wife and I don’t have to move, unlike some of our neighbours. But I’ve heard that plenty of people are on the move and they’ll be looking for somewhere to stay. Perfect!
So we’ve been spending the last few weeks since the announcement cleaning the old place and getting it ready to receive guests. My wife got into every corner, even found a coin she’d lost in one of the darker recesses of a room. She swept those floors as if in doing so she kept the law!
My job was beneath, where the few animals are. I changed the straw, cleaned out that old manger, got rid of a bit of the junk that my wife says all men accumulate in ‘their space’. We’re not expecting to use it but with it being under the house my wife wanted it to smell sweeter than it often does. The animals watched me, gently chewing, wondering, I suppose what I was up to.
Finally, we went to the market and got some more provisions, grain – the barley round here is the best in the country and it makes great bread; well, you know that, that’s what this city is named after – Bethlehem – ‘House of Bread’; and some oil so that doesn’t run out, wine of course and some herbs and vegetables.
After we’d stored it all, we stood back and looked at our handiwork. ‘Fit for a king!’ the wife said. I laughed. ‘We won’t find any king staying in this old place’, I said. ‘Well, you know whoever comes will be a special person to me.’ she replied. She is a wonderful woman, always so ready to help, even when it seems impossible to me.
That was all a few days ago and since then things have become a bit manic. Be careful what you pray for, someone once told me – God just might answer your prayers! There’s been a constant stream of people entering the city, looking for a place to stay. We’re almost full and people are still arriving. My wife’s running around the place in order to look after them, a neighbour’s girl has come in to help and I’m trying to make sure that the animals they arrived with are ok. Donkeys mainly, so I’ve put them in a pen round the back, they’re not going in the stable – noisy creatures – we wouldn’t get a wink of sleep.
You know, we were stood outside the front of the house last night. My wife was wiping her hands on her apron and we were just getting a breath of the cold fresh air. The night sky was beautiful. Then my wife pointed. ‘I haven’t seen that star before’ she said. And it was new and large and you could fool yourself in thinking it was getting closer. We went back inside. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.
may my home be prepared to receive you,
may my heart be ready to embrace you.