The most mysterious character in the annual Christmas pageant is the innkeeper, or rather “innkeepers” if the director has a flourish for the dramatic. You may remember that in the Charlie Brown Christmas, a girl was very excited to be cast as the innkeeper’s wife. Most often the kids starring in these roles get decked out in robes, and they most determinedly—even, dare I say it, heartlessly—shake their heads while mouthing the words “no.” Then they point to some other place where the uncomfortably pregnant Mary and her distraught husband Joseph must go since the last rooms had been taken by the smart travelers who booked ahead on TripAdvisor.
This character of course comes from pure speculation since Luke simply writes, “She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” We don’t really know if an innkeeper or two stood there in front of their establishments pointing up the road to another hotel, or if they had pity and took them around back to the stable for other travelers’ animals so at least they could have a place to lie down after their journey. We just know that Bethlehem’s inns were jammed with people likely because of this worldwide registration by the Emperor, the guy who wanted to know how many people he ruled over so he could stroke his ego a bit more.