Few experiences in life are more tragic than missing something important when there was no real need to miss it. Yet that is the experience of many, many people. It is the experience of those who missed the first Christmas, and also of those who miss Christmas today.

The first of the men who missed Christmas was the innkeeper. The Bible does not mention this man explicitly. Probably by the time the story of the birth of Jesus Christ was put into writing no one remembered who he was; there was no reason to remember him. Still there certainly was an innkeeper, for when the Bible tells us that Mary “brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7), the verse implies the existence of this man. The point of the reference is that in the hustle and bustle of the season the innkeeper missed the most important birth in history.

He should not have missed it, of course. He should not have missed it simply because he was so close to it. The decree of the Emperor Augustus brought the family of Jesus to his town, Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph stood on his doorstep, perhaps even entered his waiting room, stood before his desk. The child was born in his stable, almost under his nose. And yet his preoccupation with his business kept him from it.

This dramatized account of the innkeeper’s reasoning comes from a recent book by the distinguished American writer Frederick Buechner:

“I speak to you as men of the world,” said the Innkeeper. “Not as idealists but as realists. Do you know what it is like to run an inn—to run a business, a family, to run anything in this world for that matter, even your own ...
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