The innkeeper and other mythical Christmas characters

We know him well. The innkeeper.

Sometimes accompanied by his wife, he’s the person who appears in children’s Christmas pageants, dressed in a bathrobe, answering Joseph’s persistent knocking on styrofoam painted to look like wood. The innkeeper, sometimes accompanied by his wife, shakes his head. Even when Joseph points at the overly expecting Mary, sitting at the edge of the stage.

Sometimes, if the innkeeper is generous, he points with his thumb to the back of the building. Back where the cow is.

It’s a poignant moment. We are warned to not be like the innkeeper. Or his wife.

But they never existed. Neither did the drummer boy who wanted to play for Jesus.

We make them up because we don’t have enough roles for people in the Christmas pageant. We make them up because we want everyone to have a role in the story. We want to play our best for him, even if we are drummers.

The risk, of course, is that we then begin to think they were actually in the story. And we may be more committed to the drummer and the innkeeper and his wife than we are to what actually is in the story. A young woman, a man, a baby, and the visible beginning of an unsettling few decades of history.

We don’t have to make up people just to learn to follow Jesus. Something to ponder (as Mary pondered things) as we start Advent on Sunday.


If you’ve ordered a copy of Giving The Year Meaning, but it won’t arrive for awhile, send me an email at jon [at] and I’ll send you a Word version. This could be helpful if you think with your fingers rather than a pen, too.