A honeymoon couple is in the Watergate Hotel in Washington. The bride is concerned. “What if the place is still bugged?” The groom says “I’ll look for a bug.” He looks behind the drapes, behind the pictures and under the rug. “AHA!” Under the rug was a disc with four screws. He gets his screwdriver, unscrews the screws, and throws the disc out the window. The next morning, the hotel manager asks the newlyweds…”How was your room?”, “How was the service?”, “How was your stay at the Watergate Hotel?” The groom says, “Why are you asking me all of these questions?” The hotel manager says “Well, the room under you complained of the chandelier falling on them!”
Today, we begin our Sunday morning Advent sermon series- The IMDb Cast of Characters. In case you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, “IMDb? What in the world is THAT? Some kind of military code?”, let me explain.
The Internet Movie Database (abbreviated IMDb) is an online database of information related to films, television programs, and video games, taking in actors, production crew, fictional characters, biographies, plot summaries, and trivia. Actors and crew can post their own resumé and upload photos of themselves for a yearly fee.
Taking a page from the IMDb website, we’re going to spend Sunday mornings during Advent looking at a few of the “featured players” in the Christmas story- their “past roles”, how they got the ole in which they are cast in THIS story and what lies ahead for them.
Today, we look at a character who consistently gets a bad rap in this story. He is vilified, reviled…and he isn’t even actually mentioned! The fact that e are talking about him this morning is based solely on inference gleaned from 10 words…TEN words…that imply his involvement. So, let’s consider the reality that a bit player, walk-on, “extra” kind of guy named Vinnie T. Innkeeper was cast as “the bad guy”.
Luke 2:6-7 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Jay, Tom and Paul were at a convention together sharing a large suite at the top of a 75-story hotel. After a long day of meetings, they were shocked to hear that the elevators in their hotel were broken, and they would have to climb 75 flights of stairs to get to their room. Jay said to Tom and Paul, “Let’s break the monotony of this unpleasant task by concentrating on something interesting. I’ll tell jokes for 25 flights, Tom can sing songs for the next 25 flights and Paul will tell sad stories for the rest of the way.” At the 26th floor, Jay stopped telling jokes and Jim began to sing. At the 51st floor, Tom stopped singing and Paul began to tell sad stories. “I will tell my saddest story first,” he said. “I left the room key in the car!”
So Vinnie T. Innkeeper was a struggling actor who just couldn’t seem to catch a break. His name and his “look” typecast him into certain roles. He was “the bad guy”. He had done walk-ons in shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Law and Order. He was always “the muscle” and he never had much to do- seldom even had any lines.
And now, his agent calls with the latest “opportunity”- the innkeeper in a story about a couple coming to Bethlehem and having a baby. In the original script, he had a couple of lines, culminating in, “”We don’t have any rooms available.” But in the end, it all ended up on the editing room floor- except for a 3-second clip of Vinnie shaking his head “no” and closing the door.
Consider this- we vilify the innkeeper for not letting Mary and Joseph in. In reality, we have NO idea what happened at the door of that inn. We can’t possibly know the conversation that took place between Joseph and the innkeeper. But we always imagine this gruff, rude, crude “goodfella” with a heart of stone who turned away the woman carrying the Savior of the world.
But I wonder, deep down in those places we don’t like to talk about at parties, would we have reacted any differently? If a couple showed up at your house…or MY house…looking for a place to rest, would we say anything to them other than, “Sorry- there’s no room in the inn.” It’s easy to see this story as a clear-cut example of how NOT to behave. Do you remember Goofus and Gallant from the Highlights magazine? The Highlights magazine was the only…the ONLY…reason I liked going to the doctor’s office! And Goofus and Gallant were…are…to boys who sow the opposite sides of a situation. Goofus always made the wrong choice when faced with a situation, while Gallant always made the right choice. For our money, Vinnie T. Innkeeper is CLEARLY the Goofus of the Nativity story.
But my gut tells me that we are all simply lucky that it wasn’t US in that same situation. I fear any one of us could easily be Vinie T. Innkeeper. Doing the right thing means doing it even when it’s a tough situation…perhaps ESPECIALLY then.
His name was Wallace Purling, but everybody called him Wally. Wally was nine years old and in 2nd grade…even though he should have been in 4th. Wally was big, awkward and slow…in both movement and mind. It was time for the annual Christmas pageant and Wally wanted nothing more than to be a shepherd. But his teacher, Miss Lumbard, assigned him a different role- the innkeeper. She figured that he wouldn’t have many lines to learn and his size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph more forceful.
And so, the day of the pageant arrived. Shepherd’s crooks, creches, fake beards, crowns and halos where the order of the day. And no one was more caught up in the magic of the event than Wally Purling. He stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that Miss Lumbard had to make sure he didn’t wander onstage to early. Then, the time came. Joseph tenderly guided Mary to the door of the inn and knocked hard on the wooden door. Wally was there, waiting. “What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open abruptly. “We seek lodging.” “Well, seek it elsewhere. The inn is full.” “Sir, we’ve asked everywhere- we’ve come a very long way and we’re very tired.”
“There is no room for you.” “Please, good innkeeper, my wife Mary is with child and needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner.” For the first time, Wally relaxed his stiff stance a bit and looked down at Mary. And there was a long pause. The audience started to feel uncomfortable. From backstage, the prompter whispered, “No! Begone!” Wally snapped back to attention, “No! Begone!” he repeated automatically.
Joseph sadly put his arm around Mary and the two of them started to move away. Wally, however, didn’t turn and go back inside his in. Instead, he stood in the doorway, watching the downcast couple walk away. And his eyes began to fill with tears. And then, suddenly and inexplicably, the Christmas pageant took a sharp left turn. “Don’t go, Joseph,” Wally called out. “Bring Mary back.” And then Wallace Purling’s face grew into a bright smile. “You can have MY room.”
Some people in attendance thought the pageant had been ruined. But there were many, many others who considered it the most “Christmassy” of all the Christmas pageants they had ever seen.
Here’s the deal- a couple is going to show up at your door…your door…in about 3 ½ weeks. The woman will be “great with child”. And they will want to come into your home…into your heart. The child she carries is the Word made flesh, Emmanuel…God with us. He wants to be invited into your home- not just for a brief respite before going back out into the cold, harsh world…but forever. Whether He comes as a baby, seeking shelter or as an adult- “He stands at the door and knocks”- He will NOT force Himself into your home…into your heart. There is NO relationship unless you willingly invite Him in. Will you open your heart to Him this Christmas? Will you, instead of turning Him away, fling wide the door and say, “Don’t go, Jesus.You can have MY room!”
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Ring the Bell