Summary: Christmas Eve parable/sermon featuring the first ever Christmas letter written by an ancient inn keeper, and recently rediscovered in the Stockholm University Library archives.
"She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the village inn." (Luke 2:7, NLT)"
Over the years various traditions have developed around the innkeeper and we’ve imagined quite a bit about him.
Often we’ve thought of him as a proto-Grinch--mean-spirited, turning a pregnant woman out to the barn, but thwarted in his meanness by the arrival of the Savior in his backyard, in spite of his inhospitable spirit.
Sometimes, though, he’s been portrayed as the compassionate one who goes out of his way to make some room for Mary and Joseph when there is nothing else available in town.
Now, of course, technically speaking, neither Luke’s gospel--nor any other gospel for that matter--even mentions that there was an innkeeper. It’s all very much been a matter of speculation--that is until now.
I’m pleased to stand here tonight with good news of great joy--well at least of some interest--that is, that finally there is some definitive historical information regarding the innkeeper.
A researcher in the famed Stockholm University Library just last month, was searching through a pile of very old crusty and fragile documents and she came across what appears to be a family Christmas letter from one Goran Franzen, who was apparently part of a Nordic clan which had migrated to Judea just before the birth of Christ.
From everything we’ve been able to tell about this group, they had moved south in hopes of finding milder winters and richer diets. Many had become shepherds and a few, including Goran, had become businessmen.
Now, the letter itself obviously pre-dates Kinko’s--so we suspect that it was duplicated on an ancient mimeograph. You can tell by the smudges and the faded corners on the typed t’s.
Interestingly enough, this is the earliest known Christmas letter in existence. I share it with you this evening in hopes that it will help you better grasp the significance of the ancient Bethlehem events.
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Dear Family and Friends:
Warmest holiday greetings from our family to yours!
The Franzens are doing well and we are thankful as we look back over this past year with all of its ups and downs.
Little Ingrid isn’t so little anymore. Now seven, she has become the social butterfly of the neighborhood. Her striking blonde hair and blue eyes make her the center of attention everywhere we go in this land of dark hair and dark eyes. She is looking forward to beginning harp lessons--as we have promised--once she turns eight.
Vivianne is now 12 and was the top Mandlebread seller in the Girl Scout cookie drive. The Bethlehem troop is quite active and they take field trips every month. This past week they took the five mile trip to Jerusalem--where they toured the great temple.
Thomas is 16, and is proud of his new camel driver license. Camels are strange looking beasts--larger than horses and particularly suited to this arid climate.
Kara misses her family and friends back in the old country but has adapted well to the climate and life we have here. She manages the front desk of the inn and has been active in a reading club this year. On top of this she keeps the house and rides herd on the children. She is a remarkable woman.
I, Goran, have thrown myself into the operation of the inn--which has proven to be an ordeal these past few weeks. The Emperor has been holding a tax-collecting census--which involves all citizens returning to their homes of family origins.
Since Bethlehem is the family home of the famous clan of King David, the town has been packed--good for business, too good. We’re packed out every night and many people have been sleeping in the streets.
One strange episode in this whole chaotic epoch centers around a baby born in our stable. A couple from the podunk town of Nazareth, up in the Galilee region, had come to register.
She was quite pregnant and ended up giving birth to her baby son in OUR BARN! The barn was the best I could offer them. (Kara thought we should have invited them into our home but neither of them were wearing wedding bands and as it turns out it’s probably best that they were out with the animals--not that its such a luxurious place, but it was all very messy.)
And then came the parade of people--mostly shepherd-types. It was almost as though the whole event was a religious pilgrimage. Mark my word, any child born into such chaos is destined for trouble.
A few people, however, are saying that this baby is some kind of holy child. Perhaps that would explain the strange star that seemed to hover over the inn while he was here.