Always the Inkeeper – a sermon for Christmas Day 2018

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I, was always the innkeeper.

I’m not sure how many times I was in a nativity. Nor am I sure how it happened. But somehow, I was always the innkeeper.

And the innkeeper doesn’t get the best of lines.

“I’m sorry, there is no room at the inn”

Of course, there’s no actual innkeeper in the Bible. Just that line which says that Mary laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

From the lack of room in the inn there is presumed to be an innkeeper.

And the innkeeper must therefore turn the holy couple away. Not for them the comforts of the inn.

But how to play the innkeeper – stern and uncompromising as he shakes his head at the holy couple. Or kind and compassionate finding them a corner round the back with the animals because you can’t just let a woman give birth on the street?

I’m not sure that my knowledge of theatre was all that developed in those days but there was still clearly a choice to be made.

If you’ve only got one line, you’ve got to make it count.

I never got to play the part of Joseph – concerned, compassionate, gentle and strong.

I never got to play a shepherd shivering on the hillside nor a king come from the East to worship the Christchild.

I never got to spit like a camel or baa like a sheep. Nor was I to ever become any of the whole host of angels who came to sing peace to God’s people on earth.

I always knew that I’d have made a fabulous Gabriel, all sparkles and glitter, even if the world was not at that time ready for me to play the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But it was never to be.

I was always the innkeeper.

Carrying my lamp (I always had a lamp) it was my solemn duty to tell Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them in the inn.

So far as I can tell the inns of Great Western Road, do not seem to come with adjacent stables these days. The memory of the cow byers in the West End where animals were stabled after being brought into town for market lingers in the name of Byers Road. But generally speaking, for most of us the idea of a stable is a bit foreign.

But it was to such a place that the innkeeper showed the holy family and in such a place as that, the Lord of heaven and earth first laid his head, all wrapped in swaddling bands.

Perhaps the modern equivalent is a garage around the back.

I wonder whether those of you who played a part in nativity scenes in your youth have found the character that you played has played out in your later life. Is there still an angel in you – announcing news whenever there’s great news to tell? Are you still searching like one of the Magi? Are you someone who still looks after the sheep.?

I find myself wondering whether constantly saying “There is no room at the inn” in my childhood Christmases somehow contributed to wanting to preside over a congregation which is trying to be open, inclusive and welcoming and trying to say, yes, there’s always room for more around the crib at Christmas and around the altar where God is alive to us the rest of the year too.

Maybe I am rebelling against my old Christmas script. No more will I proclaim no room at the inn. There’s room for everyone here.

It may be because it was my part to play that I’ve tended to think that the church has neglected the innkeeper somewhat. There’s no carols about the innkeeper. No icons of the innkeeper. No relics of the innkeeper to visit. No shrine.

Once he has delivered his line in the nativity play, the innkeeper fades away.

Well, he fades away from view but somehow we each get the chance to play his part and not just at Christmas. Whom will we welcome? Who precisely will we make room for.

For there must be room for the wandering and the lost. There must be food for the hungry. There must be shelter for the homeless. There must be refuge for the refugee.

And the vocation of all of us innkeepers is to work out how to welcome just one more.

And the Christmas story is at its weakest if we locate it only in Bethlehem and only in a time long, long ago.

Like all the best stories it comes to life when we find ourselves acting the parts of the characters not simply in childhood but when we can see and influence the same drama as it plays out in our lives.

The Christmas story is not simply that God came once and laid his head in straw and that was that.

The Christmas story is that Glasgow is the holy city in which God is born. The Christmas story is that people still discover that same God in the most unexpected ones. The true Christmas story is that there’s always room for one more beloved child.

And the true Christmas story is not that God loved the world so much 2000 years ago that he came and for the blinking of a lifetime was part of it.

It is that God loves the world so much because God loves you.

And that love doesn’t happen then or there, but here and now.

God loves you, here and now.

This place is Bethlehem. And unto us a child is born.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.


  1. AndyB says

    I played the first innkeeper at our Nativity this year – it’s an all-age affair.

    *Joseph asks for a room*

    I laboriously check the ledger.

    “Ledger says no.”

    *they turn away disappointed*

    “Hang on. My brother’s got a room. It’s up in Nazareth. Is that any use to you?”

    *Donkey 1 resists the temptation to comment about not going all the way up there*

    I didn’t get the expected laugh. Should have said “computer says no” to make it totally anachronistic and obvious.

  2. Richard Wightman says

    Actually, cattle etc are kept in byres (not byers) and last time this Edinb**ger was in Weegieland, the road in your West End was so named!

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