Why Blame the Hotel Manager?

Luke 2:1-20

There are two introductions to the birth of Jesus found in the New Testament.  One of them is in Matthew’s Gospel.  It begins with a genealogy that underscores his great importance. It is a story of wisemen bearing expensive gifts.  It has kings and priests active in the account, with a palace in the background.  Matthew’s version tells us something of the grandeur of the birth of Christ the King.

Luke’s account is quite different. It has shepherds, peasants and old folks. It has all the trappings of poverty and simplicity.  When Mary & Joseph come to circumcise the child their offering is two small birds; the sacrifice for those who cannot afford a lamb. (Leviticus 12)

As part of that story, Luke tells us about the day Jesus was born.  I want to place our focus on that phrase in chapter 2, verse 7, “They laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

On Blaming the Innkeeper.

No room in the inn!  What kind of an innkeeper was that who would refuse a tired couple a night’s lodging?  They were not just tired, however, for the woman is about to give birth to a baby.  Sermons and stories without number have been told about that innkeeper.  Here is how some of them have gone.

He put money first. 

He had some well-paying travelers who would tip him generously. It was maximum tourist time with the command to return to your home town.  Every hotel room was at a premium.  If Joseph had crossed his palm with a big enough coin, room could have been found. But Joseph and Mary were poor people, and this innkeeper put money first in his life.  If we agreed with that diagnosis, then this advent message would have to be on stewardship and the evils of materialism.

His life was crowded with too many other interests

A second accusation is made against the innkeeper.  His life was crowded with so many other things that Christ was pushed off to one side.  He didn’t have time or place for one more thing in his life, so Christ was relegated to the periphery of life.  If this is true, then this message would have to be about putting Christ first in Christmas and first in your life.

He was ignorant as to who Christ was.

There is a third accusation made, that is a bit kinder than the others.  The Innkeeper just did not understand. He did not understand who this couple was.  He had no perception that their baby would be the world’s central figure.  If he had, he would have made the best room available, or he would have surrendered his own bed.  But he did not know who Christ was.  If this diagnosis is the truth, then this sermon would be one to introduce us to the true nature of the baby.

God is to blame.

But on deeper examination it is obvious that it was not the innkeeper’s fault that there was no room in the inn.  If anyone is to be blamed, it must be God. God could have solved those problems very easily.

  • If the problem was the innkeeper’s ignorance, God could have sent an angel to instruct him, just as he sent angel messengers to the shepherds.
  • If the inn was too crowded, he could have delayed another couple in transit by giving their mule a flat tire, so that Joseph and Mary could have gotten there first.
  • If it was a problem of money, God could have slipped a gold coin into Joseph’s hand, just as he would do thirty years later when a coin-carrying fish helped pay the taxes for Jesus and Peter.

In fact, scrap the Inn!  God could have opened up far better facilities for the birthing of his son. He could have opened up a pleasant, private home with its warmth and privacy, like the home of Mary & Martha at Bethany.  He could have had his son brought to the birth in a palace.  Instead of a stable, he could have ordered a suite at some high class resort.  Instead of a manger, he could have ordered a silk lined, carved cradle.  Instead of animals in attendance, he could have had ladies in waiting.

In the final analysis, it was God who was responsible for Christ being born in a manger.  So let us give the innkeeper a break.

Luke does.  There is no mention of any innkeeper.  Some scholars suggest that the Inn was just a public building that anyone traveling could use, if they did not have friends in town with whom they could billet.  Some of these buildings had inn keepers to manage the food and fodder needs of the travelers, and others had no one in charge.  Let us allow our anonymous and invisible innkeeper to get off the hook of false accusations.

But the question must then be raised, why did God choose a manger for the birthing of the world’s messiah?

That we might better understand God.

Perhaps the primary reason is that we might better understand God.  Outside of the visible expression of poverty and humility we would have a difficult time understanding what God is really like.  But Paul helps us, when he writes, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor.”

The story of Jesus is the story of God’s graciousness. Notice the trend that began at his very birth.
At his birth, he borrows a manger from the animals.
Years later, he claims to have no place to lay his head.
He borrows a boat, to preach from.
He borrows a boy’s lunch, to feed the crowds.
On Palm Sunday, he borrows a colt to enter Jerusalem.
On Maundy Thursday, He borrows an upper room to eat with his friends.
On Good Friday, he will borrow a tomb.

There are millions in our world that go through that kind of poverty every day of their lives.  If he had been born into a palace, we would have said he had all the breaks.  If he had been born among the elite, we would have said his environment and education made him great.  If he had been born into a famous family, we might have sensed that this was a man who had been made into a god.

But when we see the stable, it reminds us that when God became man, he took upon himself our human condition.  The manger reminds us that God has shared our life.  He put aside glory and grandeur and participated with us in the difficulties of living.

When Luke tells us the story, the account of the crowded inn is followed by the story of the shepherds.  It is no coincidence. We need to know something about shepherds in those days.  They did not have a good reputation among the leaders of that nation.  They were seen as the disreputable, the dishonest, the irreligious.  They were classed at times among the sinners, such as tax collectors and women of ill repute.  Some of the Jewish Rabbi’s tell us that they were not allowed to be witnesses in a court of law because of their bad reputation.  But it is these very people who are get a special invitation to see the infant Messiah in a manger.

It is interesting that the manger is important to Luke the writer.  He mentions it three times.  The surface reason for its use is that the Inn was fully occupied.  But there may have been a far more profound reason in his mind.

The shepherds are tending their flocks of sheep. The angelic spokesman appears and a promise is given. Note verse 12. “This will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

There is nothing unusual in a baby being bundled in cloth wrappings.  All babies were dressed that way in those days, but lying in a manger!  Now that appears to be unusual.  In verse 16, it is mentioned that Jesus was in a manger, but there is no mention of the clothing.   The manger is the important thing.  But how is a baby in a manger, a sign?  Is it simply a sign that they have found the right baby?  Or is it a sign of something significant?  A sign that God has come to us in humility. That the Messiah has come, not with pomp and circumstance, not with battalions of soldiers, but he has come in meekness and poverty.

I am not sure of all that happened on the domestic scene in that world 2,000 years ago, but I am familiar with my home of 70 years ago.  My mom and dad had 11 of us children.  When each one was born, it was at home, with the help of a mid-wife.  We had no nursery.  We actually had no room for a crib.  So my parents used one of the drawers from the dresser, and that served as the crib as each child was born.  I have no evidence for this, but I wondered if poor shepherds did not make the best of their circumstances too and used a thing like a manger as a temporary cradle?

We do know from the architecture of the poorer houses of that day, that they were single-room dwellings.  The back of the room was used for sleeping and was raised about 2 feet above the front part of the room.  The lower section was used as the living room as well as a place for the animals that would wander in and out of the house.  It was also used as an animal pen on cold nights. A manger was usually built into the walls of the lower section.  It would be a wonderful convenient place for a baby’s bed.  We can only guess as to this use. But, perhaps this baby in a manger spoke to the shepherds, that the saviour of the world was one of them.

The rest of the story that Luke tells underscores the theme that Jesus came to people who are the poor and the outcast. He came to the ones who are the commoners of life.  He came to live alongside people who were without fame or fortune.


And the good news, my friends, is that this story is not merely history.  It is also parable.  God still dwells with the lowly.  He is still interested in the welfare of the powerless and the sinful.  He is not a saviour for the good and the gifted alone.  He has come to those who live with shame and sorrow.  He comes to those who look for someone who understands them.

The Shepherds left that encounter “Glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”   You and I should also be grateful that Jesus’ name is Immanuel – God is with us too.

So you feel like singing? Here is a good song written by Emily Elliot 150 years ago, to give music to our thoughts.

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

1   Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

2   Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

3   The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

4   Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

5   When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.