Just A Girl
Despite the crisp cool night air, Bethlehem's streets were dusty and hot as thousands of people and their animals streamed into the city to fulfill their obligation to the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus; the innkeeper was exhausted but relieved that his small inn was full.
With a contented smile, he collapsed into bed with happy thoughts about the extra income helping his family in the weeks and months to come and he thanked God for the unexpected blessing that Caesar's degree had afforded them. Then, just as he was beginning to doze off, he heard heavy pounding on their gate.
Groaning, he rolled onto his stomach and covered his ears with his hands.
Don't they see the sign, he thought, we're full.
His wife's cold fingers pinched his arm in the darkness, making him flinch and, in response, he rolled over to wrap his arms around her and warm her. She pushed him away, mumbling sleepily, "Go and see who's knocking."
He tightened his grip, enjoying her warm body, but again she pushed him away and there was more pounding on the gate. He was caught between a rock and a hard place.
Reluctantly, he rose and hurried to complete the loathsome task, hating the cold dirt floor on his formerly warm feet; Throwing open the latch with angst in his heart and mind, he was already rejecting the visitors even before he really took a good look at them.
Before him stood a weary couple and his breath caught to see how heavily pregnant the girl was. He felt certain that she would deliver her baby while they visited her husband's ancestral hometown and he didn't discount the idea that she might go into labor that very night.
His rejection made her cry out in anguish.
"I'm sorry," he said again, looking at the ground in shame, "but I have no more rooms available." He pressed his lips together, stubbornly pushing away the image of his own mother's lectures on hospitality.
"Is there really nothing?" her husband asked, wrapping his arms around his wife, protecting her from a gust of wind that blew through alley, "My wife…"
"I'm sorry," the innkeeper firmly held the line and closed the door, muttering a prayer first that they'd find a place to stay and second that he wouldn't have any more interruptions. Then he shuffled back to bed.
"Who was it?" his wife demanded, as he re-entered their room. She was awake and from her wide-eyed expression, he knew that she'd heard the girl's wail.
Kissing her cheek, he smiled and shrugged. "I don't know," he lied, "Just a couple of gypsies begging at the door."
He hoped that the shadows in the room covered the redness in his face; his wife would be furious if she knew that he'd turned away such a heavily pregnant girl; she would have given up their own bed to the needy visitors.
Smiling again, he tried to convince himself that it was all for the best. After all, they needed to sleep somewhere too, didn't they? "I told them that we didn't have any more rooms," he added. Kissing her again, he said, "Go back to sleep."
Climbing into bed, he sighed as she resettled beside him, confident that he had control of everything. He only hoped that sleep would return quickly.
But it was not to be. Try as he might, the innkeeper couldn't get the couple, particularly the girl, out of his mind; her face haunted his thoughts.
She's just a girl from out of town, he reasoned with himself, like almost everyone else because of the degree. They'll only be here for a couple days. I'm sure that God will take care of them. I said a prayer. How much does God expect me to do anyway? My inn is full.
Finally, frustrated beyond reason with his lack of peace, he got up to take a walk, careful not to disturb his sleeping wife. Shuffling out into the chilly night, he wrapped his arms over his chest, trying to keep warm and started walking around the edge of his property, reluctant to stray very far. Then his ears perked at strange sounds coming from the dirty stable where his guests kept their animals and he crept closer, hoping that it wasn't a thief.
Looking inside, he saw the couple that he'd turned away and was briefly relieved that his prayer had been answered; they had indeed found shelter. Then he winced to realize that the girl, laying on her back in a pile of soft hay, was in labor.
Glancing up into the sky, he was startled to see that the light of a great star was directed at his stable and when he heard the joyous songs of angels thundering across the heavens and earth he backed away in horror, suddenly remembering the words that the prophet Micah had written concerning his small town and the birth of the Messiah. Falling to his knees in a stupor, he prayed.
"What have I done?"
He scolded himself, stammering as his dread mounted, "He's just a babe-just minutes old and trembling in the hay-I could have found a room for them to stay." Shaking his head, the tears rolling down his rough bristly face, he whispered his confession to God, "I'm so ashamed."
Noise behind him jerked his attention away from the Holy Family and he turned to see shepherds from the hillside, some of whom he knew personally, running toward his stable, hurrying their flocks along as quickly as possible.
The innkeeper stood by, dumbfounded by the sight of these men kneeling before the baby that he'd turned away.
They know better than I did, he thought, with a trace of bitterness. He doesn't have a robe or a crown but they know that they're on royal ground. More tears spilled down his cheeks and he covered his face with his hands.
Anguishing, he sobbed, "I turned away God's own Son."
As he tried to regain control of his emotions the hopeful thought that he would be forgiven if he could but look into the baby's face entered his mind and he tried to refocused on the Holy Family, but when he looked up all he could do was gasp. There had to be a million angels in that tiny space! They were crowding in to see, their king, Jesus, among humanity.
He's just a babe, the innkeeper thought, unable to fathom the future that lay ahead of this Child. He looked at His mother, her face serene as she and the Child stared at each other.
She's just a girl, he thought, thoroughly amazed. Does she know that she just changed the world?
Does she know that He will save the world?