My name is Sol, well, really it’s Solomon, but they call me Sol. I am the one you know as “the inn keeper.” You have heard much about me down through the years. But, like many other parts of the story of the birth of Jesus, you’ve never heard my story. How many times have you seen a small boy dressed in his father’s too big bathrobe with a towel wrapped around his head open the cardboard door to a motel with a star on top and shout to Joseph, “I tell you there’s no room in my inn.” It wasn’t that way at all. The word translated “inn” simply means a dwelling place, or a guestroom.
Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home. It’s why he had to come back to register for the census. The idea that his family would let Mary and Joseph stay outside in a stable would be unheard of. Joseph and Mary stayed with me. You see, Joseph was my older brother. He moved to Nazareth to find work and we had not seen him for quite sometime. Our mother was living with my family and me because our father had died.
Most of the village homes were two room dwellings. One room was the family living space and the other was a bedroom. The family stayed together and at night the family’s valued animals were brought inside for warmth for the family and protection so the animals would not be stolen. The animals were separated in the living area by a makeshift wall, and there was a small manger dug into floor at one end for hay.
The family wasn’t really sure what was going on with Joseph and Mary. We had heard rumors that Mary was pregnant by someone else before they were married and Joseph was going to break the betrothal by divorce. Then Joseph said he found out that Mary had not been unfaithful to him so he suddenly married her anyway. It was not like Joseph to be impulsive or unreasonable and so we thought it must really be his child. When word of the census came out, we knew we would see Joseph again soon and Mary, too.
The journey was very difficult for them because of Mary’s condition, so it took longer than expected and by the time they arrived the house was already full with family guests from other towns who were staying with me. Mary and Joseph had to sleep in the family area with several other families because the bedroom was packed with people, too.
They had been with us for a few days when Mary went into labor. It was not such a big deal because all women had their babies at home. Our mother was there and some of other ladies were able to help with the delivery. The men were outside with Joseph, where we belong.
The baby was wrapped up like a papoose with cloth, because it helps calm a baby. It’s true that because there was no room anywhere else, he was laid in the manger full of hay, since it was the softest spot.
Things got back to normal for a few days after the baby was born except for the extra commotion that is caused by a new baby crying in the night. But then some shepherds came by with an odd story. They said a few nights before an angel appeared to them in the field and told them that the messiah had been born in Bethlehem and they could find him there. They had been in town knocking on doors and asking for the house where a baby had been born. They said they had come to worship him because he was the Savior.
We thought they were just crazy old shepherds. You know how they are, but after they were gone, Joseph told us that an angel had also appeared to him in a dream telling him that Mary’s baby was from God and then Mary told her story of the angel which had appeared to her saying she would have God’s son. It was a lot to take in and we weren’t sure exactly what to believe. I was particularly skeptical.
Eight days later the baby was circumcised and they gave him the name, Jesus. They said it was the name the angel told them to use. Yeah…okay!
Things sort of got back to normal until it was time to take Mary and Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification. While we were in the temple courts, this crazy old man named Simeon grabbed Jesus out of Mary’s arms and cried out, ‘“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.” blah, blah, blah, or some such thing. Joseph didn’t know what to do and then the old guy blessed them and turned to Mary and as he handed Jesus back to her he said quietly, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God,” and mumbled some other stuff but ended with, “And a sword will pierce your very soul.” How uplifting! What a crock!
While Simeon was still talking, Anna came up. She’s an old woman who went crazy when her husband died and she came to live in the temple and has never left. She prays and fasts and worships all day and goes around giving so-called prophecies. She doesn’t smell very good either. She began praising God and talking about the child being the one who they had been waiting for. We got out of there as quickly as we could since she was starting to draw a crowd.
My wife and my mother were intrigued by the stories about the angels and the babblings of the two crazy people in the temple and convinced themselves that Jesus might really be the messiah. Yeah sure, the King of Israel would be born in my house. What a laugh!
Joseph found a job with me as a carpenter and they stayed with us for a while after all of the other relatives left. It was nice having them around. A year or so later a group of astrologers arrived in the area. Great…educated, crazy people! They, too, were going house to house looking for some special baby. They said a sign had appeared to them in the sky and they had been following that sign for quite awhile. They had stopped by Herod’s palace to ask his wise men about the scriptures. Anyway, somehow they wound up here, but at least they brought gifts. They had gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold was pretty cool, but the other two items seemed odd gifts for a baby and we didn’t understand.
After they were satisfied they had found the right baby, the guys left. They mentioned they were supposed to go back to let Herod know where they found the baby, but they didn’t trust him and were going home a different way. We sat up and talked most of the night about their visit.
After finally going to sleep, Joseph woke up alarmed by another dream. Another angel had appeared to him and said that Herod was going to try to kill the baby. Joseph said he was taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt, which is where the angel supposedly told him to go. We tried to talk him out of it, I mean, you’re going to Egypt on a dream?
I guess it was a good thing they had been given the gold, because it allowed them to travel and get started in a new life in Egypt. We thought Joseph had lost his mind until a few days later the whole country was overrun with soldiers who came into every house and killed all the baby boys that were about two years or younger. For the first time I really wondered about the “angel” stories because without Joseph’s dream, Jesus would have surely been killed. A couple of years later, after Herod died, we heard that Joseph was going back to Nazareth.
Every year, we all meet in Jerusalem for the Passover festival and get to have a sort of family reunion together. I remember the year that Jesus was twelve. After the celebration, all of the Nazareth family was leaving because they had farther to travel than us. We were staying in Jerusalem a few extra days. A couple of days later, Joseph and Mary came to where we were staying saying that Jesus was lost. They had assumed he was with the rest of the family and had travelled for a day without noticing he wasn’t with them. They had travelled back and wondered if Jesus was with us or if we had seen him. We had not, so we joined in the frantic search. We went to the big market and all of the other places that might interest a twelve-year-old boy. Frustrated and frightened, we stopped by the temple for evening prayers. There he was, sitting with the religious teachers. We watched…it was like a game. They would ask him tricky questions and he would answer with another question, which would stump them, then he would grin and explain what he meant.
Mary finally went up and tried to make him feel guilty for their frantic anguish…Jewish mother, you know. He seemed clueless. He said, “Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house doing His business?” I glanced at Joseph and he looked as if for the first time he truly realized that Jesus was not really his son. I think all of the dreams became his nightmare that day. Joseph was never the same after that. Oh, Jesus continued to honor and obey him, as his earthly father, but Joseph knew that Jesus was on a path Joseph couldn’t follow or understand. Fortunately, he died right before John went nuts.
Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, John, had always been, what shall we say, different. He had sort of been raised that way. His parents were really old when he was born and they always told him that his birth was a miracle and God had special plans for him. I always felt sorry for him. Then he finally cracked and moved out into the desert wearing animal skins and eating insects. He preached to nobody until people began to go out to listen to his crazed ravings. His crowds grew larger and even the religious leaders began to worry about him and started going out to watch him. It was hilarious. He called them a pile of snakes!
One day Jesus showed up to listen to John and was baptized. John started the talk about Jesus being the messiah again and things went down hill from there. John was arrested and killed and Jesus started his ministry of teaching.
I was back in Bethlehem working again and only heard stories of Jesus’ teachings and miracles. I knew the authorities were getting scared of the crowds that were following him. Many of them were hoping that Jesus was really the messiah and would restore Israel to greatness again. I guess in my heart, I hoped the same thing. But who can overthrow the Romans?
I had never really believed he was the messiah until I started hearing of the miracles. I began to study the scripture. Micah 5:2 says, “But you, O Bethlehem are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you…” And Isaiah 7:14 says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Hosea 11:1 says, “…I called my Son out of Egypt.” These and other scriptures reminded me of the stories told around his birth. I began to hope and wonder.
We were in Jerusalem again for Passover when everything went wrong. Jesus came riding in on Sunday with crowds praising him. I knew this would lead to trouble with the authorities. Neither the Jewish nor Roman leaders liked this sort of thing. Before the week was over the crowd was crying for Jesus to die. How could this have happened?
We tried to stay close to Mary to support her in her tragedy, but I was angry. Angry with the crowd of followers who turned on him; angry with his disciples who didn’t get him out of Jerusalem when they saw this coming, angry with God…God…Jehovah…I’m not even supposed to speak his name. He had played games with my brother and his family…angels and shepherds and stupid wise men. Why would he save Jesus from the quickly merciful sword of Herod’s soldiers just to let him die an agonizing death on a cross years later? It made no sense. It couldn’t be God. I felt betrayed and foolish that I’d allowed myself to even hope and ALMOST believe that Jesus was the one. I went home.
It wasn’t long before the rumors reached us of the resurrection. Jesus had come back to life. Really! You expect me to buy this stuff again.
I found my peace in the scriptures. I saw God’s games; Abraham and the promise…the “almost” sacrifice of Isaac. Jacob and Esau and the deceit and lies, even Jacob was tricked by his father in law. I especially enjoyed rereading the story of the Exodus from Egypt. I enjoyed God’s games, but this time he was playing with Pharaoh. Each plague brought him closer and closer to letting the Israelites go.
Moses’ staff became a snake, he turned water to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, and locusts, darkness but Pharaoh would not listen. Then he came for their firstborn.
If God wanted to free Israel from Rome, he could. Once again the lamb could be killed and eaten and the blood used to save the lives of those living under the blood the way it happened in Egypt.
A couple of years after Jesus’ death, we went back to Jerusalem for Passover. I was more excited than usual because of my detailed study of the scripture. I understood that life was required for forgiveness and life was in the blood. As in all of the sacrifices through the years, be it a bull or goat or lamb or dove, it is blood that is required for forgiveness of sin.
I found myself meeting with some of Jesus’ disciples that I had known while he was alive. They were called “apostles” now. Jesus’ followers had multiplied since his death. They were organized and meeting to continue his teaching. Not only were they saying that he had come back to life, but they talked of the Passover meal shared together the night before he died. On that night he took the Passover meal that we had celebrated for centuries to remember being set free from slavery, and used it to portray himself as the lamb slain, whose blood would be our salvation.
We celebrated what they now called a “Holy Supper” a “Communion” with God through Jesus life and death. They said that in the middle of the Passover celebration he took the bread and broke it and gave thanks to God and said, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT IT: THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU. “
And after the supper as the cup of salvation is shared, he took the cup and said, “TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND DRINK FROM IT: THIS IS THE CUP OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT. IT WILL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR ALL SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME. “
Suddenly, I understood…I can’t explain. It was as if all of the stories came together in one vision. The pregnant young girl, the questioning and unsure groom, the birth in our poor, crowded home, the crazy Simeon and Anna, the shepherds and the astronomers, the escape to Egypt even as we had escaped from Egypt…the grin on a boy in the temple and Joseph’s face as he lost his son. Even crazy John the baptizer fell into place and the miracles and teachings of Jesus made sense. I realized that the King of the Jews was really born in my house. But it was a kingdom not of a house, but of a heart. It was not about our love of life, but about living a life of love.
He came on that day so long ago so He could give His life, so that we could then have His Life, so that we could then give Our Lives…for Him. It’s not a cycle…it’s not a circle of life…it doesn’t go back around…it moves forward. He’s not the lamb slain at the Passover…He’s the lamb slain from the very foundation of the world for forgiveness. And as He lives His life in us and through us, we become his living sacrifices so that our world may know that He is the baby, He is the Lamb, He is the Life and the Light of Life that came into the world.