The innkeeper isn’t part of most Nativity sets. No one sings carols about innkeepers. There don’t seem to be any paintings that include them. But we can imagine the scene:
Bethlehem is crowded with people coming home for the census. It’s late at night when the innkeeper responds to a knock on the door and finds a young couple standing there. The woman is very pregnant. She and her spouse look exhausted. They’ve walked a hundred miles over rough, rocky terrain to get here from Nazareth.
The innkeeper is confronted with a dilemma. The inn is full; there just isn’t any more room. At the same time, the innkeeper knows that offering hospitality is part of being God’s people, because they had been sojourners and strangers in Egypt. That’s why the innkeeper has always made sure there's an empty chair for an unexpected guest at the annual seder meal celebrating Passover.
What to do?
As a child, the innkeeper had learned the story of Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers into their home. After they made the strangers a lavish feast, the couple discovered their guests were messengers (“angels") sent to bring great news: as laughable as it seemed, the elderly Sarah was going to have a baby. So, the innkeeper knows the tradition of entertaining strangers; the innkeeper knows strangers are messengers (“angels”) from God.
Tonight there is a bedraggled and weary couple on this very doorstep.
What to do?
The innkeeper pulls the door to a bit, hastily assessing the situation. Is there any space, anywhere? The beds are all taken. There are even people sleeping on the floor. What to do? Is there any possible solution?
In a moment of inspiration, the innkeeper remembers the stable out behind the inn. It’s not much, but it’s some protection from the wind. No matter how bitter the weather may become, the heat from the animals will keep these guests warm.
The innkeeper flings open the door and welcomes the couple with a broad smile. There’s not much, but there’s a possibility. A stable. Will it suffice?
And the innkeeper saves the day.