Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

No room in our inn

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 16, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Permit me to introduce a now not-so-young couple whom I met during one of my ministry junkets years ago. They still run the roadside motel, with the clever name Sleeping Inn Motel, where I first encountered them.

Clare and Jason are the managers. Situated on a busy highway, their place of business knows visitors of all kinds. During the holiday season they quite often find it necessary to flash their bright orange “No Vacancy” sign because there literally is no room in the motel for another customer.

Clare and Jason, however, are faithful Christians who know the difference between lip service to God and practiced religion. On a good number of occasions they have turned away travelers with their “No Vacancy” sign, but never anyone, they tell me, from their own door. Their apartment is a set of the same rooms in the same motel, but for them it is home. When a traveler truly is in need of lodging for the night, Clare and Jason sleep on the floor and give their own beds to their visitors – usually free of charge. Now, that’s hospitality!

When asked why they are so generous, they don’t respond with pious justification. They simply know that they need to make room in their lives for others in need.

A normal passer-by who saw the “No Vacancy” sign would presume that there was no lodging available and would expect, even without asking the manager personally, that there was just no room. Regardless.

Every time I hear the Christmas story I remember Clare and Jason. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that on Christmas night there was no room in the inn for Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. That “No Vacancy” sign stands out now in human history and is called back into mind with every telling of the Christmas story. We usually equate its rejection of the Holy Travelers with attributes of gruff selfishness. Our imaginations picture a crotchety geezer sneering at poor Joseph, hat in hand, pleading for a bed for his pregnant wife.

This aspect of the Christmas story touches us because we know in the honesty of our hearts that it speaks about us. Yet we, like the innkeeper, are not bad people. Most often we do good things, and try to lead decent lives. So, too, the innkeeper. The silence of that Christmas night was broken by the din of a packed house (it was census time, was it not?) and the lodgers had legitimately paid their rent. The “No Vacancy” sign announced the truth in businesslike fashion: There is no room in the inn. Perhaps somewhere else.

There is no malice portrayed here, but there is a lesson. The only way Joseph – or at least Mary – would have had a room that night would have been for the innkeeper to give up his own. Yes, like Clare and Jason. The innkeeper would have had to extend himself beyond the normal course of business practice and act, not out of profit, but out of his heart. Renting rooms is business; opening up for those in need is genuine hospitality. Call it true love.

Jesus was born in a stinking manger not because some innkeeper was a selfish sinner. The lowly place of Jesus’ birth, however, became necessary because of a lack of generosity, a refusal to choose others over self. God adapts, and Jesus is born in less than favorable circumstances. There is an element of sadness in all this, not just because the God of the universe became flesh among us in such humble fashion, but because one of God’s sons passed up a chance to love.

This brief scene is all too human, and so much like us. All too often, “No Vacancy” flashes its advisory note about our lives as we find ourselves engulfed in those responsibilities and activities we can so readily justify as important and necessary. No time, no money, no care for others. No vacancy.

In the wonder of God’s love, however, we are not shut out in the cold. God continues to knock at the door – not the door of our business, but the door of our hearts. He waits patiently for us to recognize the difference between the just another face taking up our time and the Face of Love who wants a place in our hearts. The choice for hospitality and welcome is ours. Christ Jesus is born with or without us, yet his coming makes a difference only if we make a deliberate choice to let him in to stay as long as he wants.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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