The Pastor’s Pen – December 24, 2017

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…the innkeeper and his daughter

A Christmas Story

December 24, 2017

…as our story begins we find ourselves at a small inn in the city of Bethlehem on that very first Christmas Eve so many long years ago. The inn is owned by a couple named Uriel and Yaffa who together with their daughter Nessa operate the business out on the edge of town. 

Many were they who called the innkeepers their friends, and who always referred visitors to their establishment which was known for its cleanliness and the wonderful food prepared by Yaffa…always complimented of course by the extraordinary wine Uriel made with the grapes from his vineyard in the fields off to the side of the inn.  Life was good for the young couple who had made such a good impression on the local populace in the last several years.

However, life had not always been so easy for the young couple.  They had previously lived about a week’s journey to the north near a small town in the central mountainous region of Israel, close to the region of Samaria. This in fact was the cause of their early struggles, for there had been rumors that Uriel’s wife had ancestors who were in fact Samaritans and as a result her family was never allowed to fully take part in the life of the community.  That, along with the fact that the families of both Yaffa and Uriel had been sheep herders for generations made it a tough go for the young couple just starting out. Whether or not the rumors were true made no difference for there was no way to turn the tide of public opinion which had all but decided that the young man Uriel was an untouchable as well due to his marriage to Yaffa.

And so the young couple decided to leave behind the family flocks and set off to try and make a new life in a region further to the south, hoping their misplaced reputation would not follow after them.  Their life as shepherds meant that they were by no means well off, however living off the land all their lives had made them strong, healthy, and resourceful.  And so they traveled down to Bethlehem where they had heard that perhaps there were opportunities available for young folks to get a start.  It was also Uriel’s ancestral home as well, even though by now there were none of his relatives still living as far as he knew.

However their welcome into Bethlehem was anything but smooth as they were not at first accepted into the community which was itself suspicious of outsiders and new arrivals.  Arriving late in the day they went from house to house hoping someone would show them some kindness and hospitality.  However upon seeing the unkempt young couple standing before them in the doorway most people simply shut the door telling them to go away.

Eventually the young couple came upon an old broken down inn at the edge of town and an older couple welcomed them in, cautioning them that as they were getting on in years the rooms might not be in the best of shape, however they were welcome to stay there if they wanted to.

Overjoyed at finally being shown some kindness and grace the young couple did stay the night, in fact they stayed on and on, helping the owners fix up the inn by cleaning and repairing all of the little things that had been worn down by years of use and inattention.  And as Uriel and Yaffa worked there they grew close to the older couple Doron and Shira who had never been able to have children of their own.

And so it was that Doron and Shira were overjoyed when they learned that Uriel and Yaffa were expecting their first child, vowing to adopt her as though she was their own grandchild. Yaffa’s delivery however was difficult and her labor lasted well into the night and on into the next day.  And as Doron and Shira waited in their room to hear the good news they suddenly were greeted by a loud wailing from Yaffa causing them to rush in to see what was wrong.  Yaffa was sobbing uncontrollably as she held her lifeless daughter close to her chest.  The baby had been born breached and had not survived the long delivery.

Going over to the sobbing young mother Shira started praying deeply and sincerely.  Doron and then Uriel joined in as well, imploring God loudly and insistently for mercy upon the little baby girl.  And then, with a start the little one coughed and began to cry…softly at first, but then loudly and with such an intensity that it surprised them all as their prayers turned from anguish to pure joy at the miracle they had just witnessed.

Lifting up his now healthy and quite boisterous infant towards the heavens Uriel made a vow to God that their daughter would serve the Lord with her life in whatever way the Lord saw fit.  Then together the young parents decided to name their little daughter Nessa which means ‘miracle’, so deeply grateful were they for the wonder they had all been a part of.

For their part, Doron and Shira kept their word and fussed over little Nessa as if she was their own, loving her and caring for her as Uriel and Yaffa, now pretty much the owners and caretakers of the inn handled all of the business.  And with time, both Doron and Shira themselves went on to be with their own ancestors, however not before first bequeathing the old inn to the young couple and the little miracle girl they had so come to cherish and adore.  Uriel and Yaffa loved their little inn and worked diligently to make it one of the best in Bethlehem.  They worked long and hard to insure that every room was clean and comfortable and that every guest went home glad that they had spent time with them in the inn.

And throughout her young life Nessa remained the absolute love of her parent’s life.  From early on the little girl had shown a deep spirituality and profound love for and trust in God.  She was a very bright and perceptive child and everyone simply loved her sweet spirit.  Life just seemed to be a bit more light-hearted whenever she was around.

Little Nessa was also very perceptive and was able to look deep into the truth of a situation, calling out what was good and right much like a prophet of old.  It seemed as if she could almost see into the depths of a person’s soul, and in particular with her father, who on occasion could become a bit short tempered with ungrateful or ill-mannered guests.  Each time Nessa saw her father starting to put on a slow burn she would go to him and make sure he remembered to be thankful for all of the blessings God had sent their way. She would go up to him and standing right in front of him, put her hands on her hips and give her father a stern stare causing him to break into laughter, immediately dispelling whatever cloud had come over him.  He knew if he persisted in his foul mood she would call him out on it and he would have to relent anyways.

Like most homes and small businesses in Bethlehem the inn had family living quarters in the bottom floor of the building, on a raised area in the room just above and out of reach of the family’s animals that were kept in the very lowest portion of the room.  As Uriel and Yaffa had fled their town in the north many years earlier they really had no family in the immediate area and after Doron and Shira had passed on had shared the family space with just the three of them.  Lately however the inn had been full to overflowing with the influx of visitors all returning to their ancestral homes to register for the census that had been ordered by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.

And even though Uriel and Yaffa had lost track of their ancestors, they knew they were originally from Bethlehem and so they went across town early on and took care of registering before the town filled up with literally hundreds of visitors.  And also due to their ancestry, the young couple began to receive relatives they didn’t even know they had, quickly filling up the downstairs family living quarters to overflowing as they wanted to save the rooms upstairs for paying customers.

And as a result of the census the town very soon swelled beyond the capacity of all available rooms, and so the local inns, including Uriel’s and Yaffa’s began to double and triple up, literally filling every square foot of space available for someone to put down a blanket for a night.  It was a chaotic and confusing time as people came and went, sometimes forgetting to pay for their stay and of course sometimes forgetting to show the proper respect for the graciousness of the hosts, leaving their rooms in poor condition, even breaking doors off from their hinges and being extremely rude and uncaring in how they left the rooms dirty and soiled.

Through it all Uriel and Yaffa tried to keep their wits about them and to remind themselves that the chaos was temporary, and that soon the census would be over and the little city could return to some semblance of normal.  But it seemed that little Nessa was having to remind her father more and more often as Uriel began to lose patience and occasionally even display anger at the treatment he and his family were subjected to almost daily.

And so, on this night as it grew late, it was not at all surprising that Uriel was feeling stressed out and ready to turn in, hoping to get a few hours of sleep before the next day’s challenges.  However as he told Nessa it was time to go downstairs for the night he also knew that the crowded quarters down there would be anything but restful. Still he hoped for at least a few hours of sleep if at all possible.

And as he moved over to extinguish the oil lamp in the small front room where they received the guests there came a soft knock on the door.  ‘Oh no’, said Uriel to his daughter. ‘We have no room for anyone else whatsoever, every room is full to overflowing’.  ‘I know daddy’, said Nessa, ‘but we need to answer the door just as well’.

And with that Uriel went over to the heavy wooden door and opened it up revealing a somewhat ragged man standing there before him.  Already knowing the answer Uriel impatiently asked the man, ‘What do you want?’ The young man answered saying, ‘I am so sorry sir but I was hoping that you might have a spare room for the night…’ ‘No, I do not’, said Uriel somewhat louder than necessary. ‘We are full up to the rafters and we have no room left whatsoever’. And with that Uriel closed the door in the young man’s face.

‘Daddy’, Nessa implored, ‘it’s not nice to shut the door on someone like that’.  But this time his daughter’s sincerity and urging seemed to have little effect. Uriel had lost his ability to reason or to extend himself any further than he already had for the last month or so.  ‘No sweetie’, he said, ‘we really do not have another inch of space’.

But the little girl was not convinced and so when the knock came softly again, she opened the door herself, revealing once more the now dejected young man standing there.  He continued trying to plead his case saying, ‘I really am sorry, but I have checked with all of the other inns and no one was willing to take us in.  I would not be so insistent but for the fact that my wife is due to give birth very soon and I can’t imagine her having to go through that out in the fields and in the cold.’

And at that both Uriel and Nessa peered out into the darkness beyond the man there before them and saw a small donkey with a woman leaning over as if in pain as she sat upon its back.  Nessa gasped, ‘Father, you simply must find a way to help them’, she uttered. ‘I wish I could, I really do’, said Uriel, ‘But the family quarters are full to overflowing and every room upstairs is tripled up as it is, there simply is no room left in the inn at all.’  ‘I am sorry sir’, Uriel said to the young man, ‘But I cannot help you’.

Slowly the young man began to turn away and head back towards his wife waiting out in the darkness.  ‘No wait’, said Nessa with a forcefulness of tone that surprised even her father and caused the young man to turn back around.  And as Uriel looked at his daughter she took on that all too familiar pose with her hands on her hips and that stern look in her eyes. But this time she was serious and Uriel knew it.  And her voice was different this time as well. It was not the voice of his little daughter but rather sounded almost like an angel…gentle yet with an unmistakable authority. It seemed as if time had stopped for a moment as the little girl began to speak.

‘Father’, she began, ‘Do you remember your very first night in Bethlehem?’  And at that question Uriel was brought back to that night when he too had searched high and low for a place where he and Yaffa could stay for the night.  He didn’t have time to answer however as his daughter continued, ‘I remember hearing a story from Saba Doron and Savta Shira of how you had appeared at their doorway after being turned away from every other inn in Bethlehem.  And of how they had felt sorry for you and trusted in God that this rag tag young couple standing before them was actually a gift from God and an answer to prayer’.

And as his daughter spoke Uriel was convicted in his heart and knew what his daughter was saying was true…but he felt trapped because he really had no room available that he could think of.  And so with tears in his eyes he turned once more to the young man in the doorway and said softly, ‘I really, really wish I could help you, but I have no room’.  And with that the young man turned away once again.

But little Nessa was not finished as she almost shouted to her father saying, ‘Daddy, let them stay in the stable.  It is warm and it is safe and I can put down some fresh straw so it will be dry.  Won’t you please let them stay there’?  Uriel began to protest for he felt that a stable was no place for anyone to stay, let alone a young couple expecting a child.  But he was not able to voice his concern as his brief silence emboldened Nessa who then announced with finality, ‘Well that settles it!  I am going down around back to set it up.  You sir’, she said, pointing to the young man, ‘can bring your wife and your donkey down in back, you can stay there in the stable for the night!’

And with that the little girl took off leaving her father to close up for the night as he and the young man exchanged a smile at the impetuous boldness of the little girl with the angel’s voice.  But Uriel had finally found his own voice and quietly asked the young man, ‘Are you okay with staying in the stable?  It is warm, and there is room as we have few animals, but I can’t promise much else.’  ‘My wife Mary and I would be eternally grateful’, the young man answered. With that Uriel spoke up again saying, ‘Oh I am sorry, I seem to have completely lost my manners tonight, my name is Uriel, what is yours?’  ‘I am Joseph’, the young man answered.  ‘Well Joseph, let’s get you and your wife into warm and dry quarters, shall we?’  ‘That sounds better than you can imagine’, replied Joseph.  Uriel smiled as he recalled that cold night so many years before as he,  Joseph and Mary set off down around in back of the inn where a soft light was glowing from the stable area.

As they entered there was a bit of stirring as the family relatives already in bed and half asleep looked up to see who was coming into the stable.  It calmed down fairly quickly however as it was late, and Mary and Joseph quickly settled into the soft hay over in one corner of the stable area, covered with a warm blanket Yaffa had given to them. Back in bed, Yaffa quietly scolded her husband for forcing the young couple to stay down in the stable area which was dirty and surely no place for a woman in Mary’s condition.  However, as Uriel recounted the conversation he had had upstairs and in particular of what their daughter had reminded him regarding their own journey many years before, Yaffa quickly realized that God’s hand was at work in her daughter’s actions and together with Uriel and the rest of the family drifted off to sleep.

Nessa however stayed up, sitting on the edge of the family quarters, curious about the late visitors to the inn and why it was she felt so strongly she had needed to intervene on their behalf.  Deep in her heart she somehow knew that this couple was special and had been sent to them for a reason. Suddenly Mary gave a soft cry as she went into labor.  It was so soft that no one else besides Joseph heard her; however Nessa hurried down to her to see if she could be of assistance as the young woman strained with the pangs of childbirth.

Mary looked at the young girl and was filled with gratitude towards her.  Looking at Nessa Mary said, ‘You know Nessa, I am so very thankful that you were so insistent on finding us a place to stay.  I knew my time was close and couldn’t bear the thought of spending the night out in the fields.  And I know that Nessa means ‘miracle’ and I am not sure why but tonight your help was definitely a prayer answered and for us you truly are one of God’s miracles’.  And with that a particularly hard contraction drove Mary’s concentration back into focusing on herself as Nessa held her hand and just smiled.

Blessedly, Mary’s labor was short and she gave birth to a little baby boy.  And as Joseph lifted up his newborn son to dedicate him to the Lord a soft glow seemed to fully light up the room.  It was as if the baby himself was the source of the strange light, however Nessa herself also seemed to be positively glowing.  And as he laid his son down wrapped in soft cloths to rest in the feed trough, the rest of the family relatives stirred once more, awakened by the strange light emanating from the stable area. Silently they gathered on the edge of the living quarters and looked on in awe at the miracle of this newborn child in their presence.

Yaffa and Uriel made their way down to the lower level and stood together with their daughter as they watched the young couple welcome their firstborn into their lives.  Mary looked up again at Nessa and mouthed the words ‘thank you’ as Nessa blushed with gratitude at being able to be a part of this night.  For his part Uriel brushed away a tear as the hopes and blessings of his lifetime came flooding back to him.  He felt as if he was witnessing the truth of his own name’s meaning as he gazed on the scene unfolding before him. For Uriel means ‘God is my light’ and surely as the room lit up around him the innkeeper was deeply humbled and thankful.

Truly the Lord had known what he was doing when he brought them to Doron and Shira’s door so many years before, he thought.  Looking down at his wife Yaffa, Uriel knew that the miracle of his own life had been repeated over again.  They who had also been refugees and outcasts in Bethlehem had been blessed by their daughter who had now blessed another young couple in turn, returning the divine grace shown to them so long ago.  And as Yaffa and Uriel stood there together with their daughter they too both gazed in wonder at what the Lord had done in their presence. It would be years before Uriel would realize that as fellow descendants of the House of David he was actually welcoming into his home his own family that night…

Suddenly there was a soft knock on the stable door.  Going to it and opening it Joseph saw a young shepherd boy standing there…

…but that my friends, is another story…

All God’s blessings, Merry Christmas……amen

 

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