Round John Virgin and the Innkeeper.

Some kid makes a drawing of the Nativity scene. Everyone looks familiar except for a guy standing in the corner. “Who’s that?” asks his teacher or mom or Sunday school teacher. “That’s Round John Virgin,” says the kid. “You know, Round John Virgin, mother, and child.”

It’s a cute story. It’s probably not true.

HoursThe young couple knocks on the door of the motel. It’s late. They are dropping from fatigue. The owner opens the door, looks impassively at the pregnant woman, the desperate man. He shrugs. “No room.” He starts to push the door shut. The man sticks his foot in the door. “Please. you are the last place in town. We’ve traveled all night.” The owner shrugs his apology. And then, as an afterthought, says, “I suppose there might be room out back.”

It’s a cute story. It’s probably not true.

Here’s what the text says:

… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

There’s no innkeeper. I’ve looked. Not even in the Greek is there an indication of someone who said to Mary and Joseph, “We don’t have room for you.”

Why do we want an innkeeper? What value does his rejection and subsequent offering of a humble space add to the nativity story, beyond extra pageant roles?

I think it has given preachers a minor negative character for the story. In Herod we have a major negative character. No one could possibly accidentally be Herod. But the innkeeper? Everyone can be a little too busy, a little too preoccupied for the Savior.

But what if the story of the birth of Jesus isn’t a morality play? What if it’s a biography? And that’s stunning enough?

First published in 2010.