Steve Lindsley
Luke 2: 1-7

(knock knock knock)

That’s how it always begins:

(knock knock knock)

The sound of knuckle hitting wood, the wood of the front door of my home. My inn. There’s actually a little indention on the right side, about two-thirds the way up, if you look close enough. You can literally see all the knocks over the years.

(knock knock knock)

Every day, people are knocking on my door. They knock because opening doors is what I do for a living. Opening doors and inviting them in. I’m the town innkeeper, you see. That’s why they knock.

And it amazes me, all the different kinds of people who come knocking. It’s part of the reason I do this, to be honest. It’s like waking up in a whole new world every day! Sometimes it’s the knock of a traveling salesman, moving from town to town to peddle his craft at the local marketplace. Sometimes it’s the knock of someone visiting family, maybe in town for a wedding. Sometimes it’s the knock of someone you never really get to know because, for whatever reason, they chose to keep their story closely guarded.

But every time someone knocks on my door, whoever it is, my job is simple – open it and let them in. Fix them something to eat if they’re hungry. Show them to their room if they’re tired. Make sure they have everything they need. And in the morning, open the door again so they can be on their way to wherever their journey takes them.

(knock knock knock)

Sometimes I’ll go for days without hearing that sound. And then other times, it’s as if the knocking never stops. Like back when that couple you know came to town. Back then there were a ton of people knocking on my door. I mean, a ton! It had been a very busy few weeks for people like me. All because of the Emperor. Emperors, you see, are notorious for doing pretty much whatever they want whenever they want to do it! And this emperor, Augustus of Rome, well he apparently wanted this massive census to be taken. Covering the entire Roman empire – which was pretty much the known civilized world at the time.

It was quite an undertaking – and not just for the government. Because everyone was required to go register in their hometown, where they were born. And while some people never left, others had to travel great distances, leaving families and jobs, just to sign a piece of paper.

So literally overnight, there was this huge migration of people across the land as they traveled to their destinations. We innkeepers were caught totally off-guard. But we had to step it up, right? It’s what we do. People knock….

(knock knock knock)

And we open doors.

This went on for weeks, mind you. Non-stop. My wife and I, we barely sat down the whole time. The constant motion of letting people in, rooming them, sending them on. (laughs). There were more than a few nights when our own bed was taken! We slept on the floor. We didn’t mind. We knew it wouldn’t last forever. We actually enjoyed the craziness, really. That’s what we do. People knock and we open doors.

And then there was that one night. We had filled up fast that day. All rooms occupied. Our own room and bed, taken. And it was still early. My wife and I were a little worried that there was still a lot of day left and someone else might come knocking. And we’d have to do the thing every innkeeper loathes to do: turn someone away.

As the evening went on and no one came, we thought we might be in the clear. And then I heard it:

(knock knock knock)

And I remember thinking, I can’t answer that. If these people need a place to stay, we have no room. None! They’re going to have to find it somewhere else. It was taking all the willpower I could muster to keep from answering that door; I can’t tell you the last time I heard someone knocking and didn’t open it.

It came again:


Did you hear how different that was? Yeah, me too. And I know that knock. I don’t hear it much, but when I do, I know what it means. It’s not the knock of a salesman passing through, or a family member in town for the wedding, or even the knock of the story-less. That knock is the knock of someone in desperation. Someone in crisis. Someone at the end of their rope with nowhere else to go.


It came again! Oh, this was horrible. I didn’t know what to do! We didn’t have any room.

And yet, I don’t know exactly what it was that compelled me to move forward, move to the door. I don’t know why my hand defied every logical thought in my head and reached to open it. But before I knew it, there I was, standing in my open doorway, standing face to face with them.

“Them” being one of the more pitiful sights I’d ever seen. Trust me, in my line of work, I’ve seen just about everything. Every kind of person in every kind of circumstance. But it had been a while, if ever, that I’d seen anything like this.

I’d say he was probably 17 or 18 at best, maybe? The hands of a carpenter, I could tell. And despite his youth, the long face of someone worn from the journey. It was the census, I knew. That’s what brought him here. Brought him here from God knows where.

And then behind him just a few feet, on top of his donkey, there she was. A young child. A young child with child!. Bent over in agony. I’d seen that look before from my wife; the three times right before each of our three children were born. But never on the back of a donkey, and never after days of travel.

Now I understood why he’d been knocking like that.

At first I couldn’t speak, I was so taken aback by this scene. And then I answered the question he didn’t have to ask: I am so, so sorry, but I’m all booked up. Even my own bed, taken. The crowds, you see – it’s been crazy for days. That stupid census! If I had room I’d give it to you in a heartbeat, believe me. But I got nothing. There is no room in my inn. I’m so sorry.

His voice cracked with a dry dustiness: Sir, please. We are desperate. We’ve been traveling for days. My wife is pregnant – I think the baby’s coming any minute, actually. And we’ve had no luck finding a place. We’ve knocked on more doors than I can remember. Please, sir, please – do you have any room for us? Any at all?

There was this moment of pause where we both just kind of looked at each other. And I don’t know exactly what was going on there. I don’t know why I didn’t just tell him no, and I don’t know why he didn’t just walk away.

Looking back on it, though, it was almost as if, in that moment, we both sensed that somehow this wasn’t the end, this couldn’t be the end. I know it sounds crazy, but it was like something was happening outside of us, bigger than us, so much bigger. SomeONE else there, a third presence introducing themselves into our exchange. All these years later and the only way I can ever describe it is this holy space unfolding in our midst. And in that moment, in that space, somehow – hope. Hope in the most hopeless of circumstances.

It was his wife moaning in agony that snapped me back. And that’s when I thought of it. Well, more like that’s when the thought came to me. Came to me from the outside instead of coming from within. Because, believe me, even on my craziest of days I never would’ve thought of doing….that!   But for some reason, in that moment it seemed like not just an option, but the option. Like it was supposed to be that way all along.

And honestly, you would’ve thought I gave them a room at the emperor’s palace when I led them down the path through the fence to our stable. That young man would not stop thanking me. Fast and furious his gratitude came, like his knocking before: thankyouthankyouthankyou!!   So incredibly grateful they both were. As Mary got settled, her husband and I went to get some fresh hay for the manger. And that was when he told me why he was so appreciative, and why this stable of mine was the perfect place for his son to be born. Because this child was a special child, he said – born of the Spirit, named by an angel: named Jesus. Joshua, as we call it in our native Hebrew tongue. It means “salvation.”

How about that – Salvation, in an animal stable in my backyard. Because there was no room in my inn.

I don’t think I need to tell you the rest of their story. I feel pretty certain you know it already! After all, it’s why you’re here, right? Here every Sunday, in this place, living out the calling and the vision cast by the man that baby would eventually grow to be. He is much better at telling his story than I ever could be. I’ll let him do the honors.

What I can tell you is the rest of my story. After the baby was born, after the visitors came, after they left. See, I kept on doing what I’d been doing. That didn’t change. People kept knocking on my door…..

(knock knock knock)

…and I kept opening it. Opening it for salesmen and wedding guests and the story-less. Opening it for anyone passing through my town who needed a place to stay for the night. Opening it because it’s my job. It’s what I get paid to do.

But if that young couple and their child taught me anything, it’s that my being an innkeeper is about so much more than a paycheck. I keep the inn because it’s what I believe in the deepest parts of my being. I believe in letting people in who need room. I believe in opening doors that are knocked on.

And from what I hear, you all have a lot of that going on in your day and time, don’t you? A lot of people knocking on your doors. The casual knocks of passers-by, curious and intrigued. The nostalgic knocks of those who’ve been gone for a spell and led back home. The frantic knocks of people in need – those desperate for a room, desperate to be let in, desperate to be validated, accepted, loved. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the knocking – you hear it all the time on your news, read about it in your Facebook feed. The knocking is relentless.

I wonder – who are those knocking? Knocking on the doors of your home and church, of your country? Knocking on the doors of your very heart? I wonder, do you take time to find out who they are – who they really are, not just believing what some people tell you? The ways they are different from you – different nationalities and creeds, different skin colors and languages. And the ways they are so much like you – flesh and bone, thinking minds and beating hearts, children of God.

But mostly I wonder – when you find out who is on the other side of the door, do you open it? Do you allow God, in that holy space that unfolds, to speak your words for you, guide your hands and feet for you; so that no one, not a single solitary soul, is ever left standing at the door?

Because that’s not who we are. We people of faith, that is. Our faith story is one that recounts the saga of our own knocking and waiting – waiting to be let in by our “Innkeeper.” Waiting to be shown to the stable so we can meet face to face with none other than Salvation himself.

And then, when it is our turn to man the door, we don’t get to choose who to open it for. That’s not our job. Our job is to become the Innkeeper ourselves – hear the knock, open the door, let them in. All of them. Because in this inn, there is room for them all. Every last one of them.

(knock knock knock knock knock knock knock……)

I think you might want to get that.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and all of God’s people say, AMEN.


* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.