When Heaven Came to Earth
Isaiah 35: 1-10
(warp hair with scarf and start with tea in hand, like you are chatting with an old friend)
As soon as I heard about Quirinus’ census, I knew I was going to be a rich woman! Ha! A census! You know, those don’t come along everyday. Boy, I think it been… oh, about 20 years since the last one! I doubted that I would see another one in my lifetime! Let alone when business was just starting to slump. Perfect timing! I’m going to be rich! I’m going to rake in the Denarii!
You know, if you are looking for a way to make some quick cash, I’ve got an idea for you. Take advantage of the occasion! Do like I’m doing… Be an Innkeeper! That right! You don’t need to have anything real fancy. Just a normal (perhaps a bit spacious) house will do. Your house would do nicely. All you got to do is clear out some space in the guest room to move in as many bunk beds as possible. Perhaps clear out some space in the attic, clean out a bit of basement… yup, oh yes, that would do just fine.
Oh? You have a courtyard? Perfect! You can surely hang some of your spare canvas or an old tapestry to make a sort of lean-to. Great idea.
You have a stable as well? Well… (laugh)… I don’t know if I would go that far. Stables are kind of gross aren’t they? A dark cave … All those animals tucked away in there. Smelly. Slobber, and other animal secretions (whispered) around the place… No. It would be undignified, that would. … (sigh) Nope! I’d leave the stable to the animals. It would be bad for business putting people out there…
As entrepreneurs, we have to have some standards you know!
But the house… oh yes, people in every corner! All, with that lovely silver Denarii filling their pockets! Yes! I’m going to be a rich woman!
I opened my doors a week ago to the flocks of people coming into town! I’ve got every inch of the house full up!
I’ve been hearing from my guests that people are looking for homes to stay in, let me tell you! They tell me that the Bethlehem Inn, down the road there, is just room after room of riff-raff! The few good people staying down there have to sleep with their possessions, hold tight to their money bags… Inns have always attracted the worst kind of people. Vagrants, thieves, those turned away from staying with relatives… and the worst yet- Samaritans…. Yikes.
No, the respectable people coming into town are looking for good homes to stay in. No matter how crowed! (laughs) You know what I’m saying!
It may be a bit of work seeing to a full house, my kitchen has never seen the likes of this! It was all I could do to sneak some time to invite you over to have a cup of tea, my old friend. But it will all be worth it in a month or two when the Census is finished. And my coin purse is filled up.
For now we have to cease the day! Take advantage of the festivities.
Every time there is a regime change with those Roman leaders they have to do a census for tax reasons you know. New leaders always have big ideas about spending our money… ol’ well… such is life. You pay your taxes and you die.
With Quirinus in charge, our new governor of Syria under the great Caesar Augustus, it was bound to happen, this census. They send out their messengers to each corner of their districts announcing that everyone has to head back to their birth homes and be counted. So, we’ve been seeing new faces, from all over Syria (all over the world really). They are hoping to get in, get counted, and get out again! Ha! But little do they know it’s going to take a while for it all to get organized. Everyone has to provide information about the head of the household, and ahh (let me think)… property details, information about who lives on the property, number of employees, number of slaves… A census is really pretty involved! They could be here for weeks waiting to be counted so that they can return home. Lucky for me, I’m a Bethlehem native. No mandatory travel for me! My husband can just pop down to “city hall” any time and get our home settled.
What’s that? Oh, yes it is fun seeing all the festivities, isn’t it! With all these people coming into town, there are a whole bunch of family reunions going on. It’s like a party out there some nights! Festivals and games have been springing up. People have been getting together with their long lost cousins and putting back a case of wine or two together. They swap old family stories and complain about the rate of taxes. Ahhh… Family bonding.
Last census that we had, people got so worked up about the taxes their was a riot! Took days for the local centurion to get a grip on things. I think a few too many casks of wine were involved if you ask my opinion.
Rioting is not for me! No, I’ll just mind my business and enjoy seeing the long lost branches of the family tree and swapping tales of the family lineage. You see, I’m from the house of David. Many are here in Bethlehem, this being his birthplace and all. But we have some great family stories. My favorite is about Ruth, perhaps you have heard of her! Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David! That would make her my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, or something like that. She was a woman that took her fortune and future into her own hands. A good role model for a businesswoman like me! She was also loyal, and tough, and bold! Yes, a very good story to share.
I bet you didn’t know, but back in those days (the days of David and Ruth), Bethlehem was known as Ephrathah. Yes it was. Honestly, I’m quite glad they changed the name, it is a bit of a mouthful.
(Knock, Knock, Knock)
Oh, would you excuse me for a moment; I need to answer the door.
… (climb stairs to the office door)
Hello traveler! What can I do for you this fine evening?
Looking for a room? Well… I’m very sorry indeed, young fellow. I’m afraid that we are full up. Have been for days!
Oh? (nods) Yes, I know everywhere else is full as well. I’ve got a small space of courtyard available if you don’t mind sleeping under the stars. A few nights of fresh air has never done any harm to young men like you. What did you say your name was? …Joseph. Wonderful
Your not alone you say? Uh huh… oh. (defeated sounding) Your wife is pregnant. Well… how far along is she, perhaps a night under the stars couldn’t hurt her either. Why don’t you call her over here?
Oh Wow! She is pregnant! About to pop by the looks of it. No… no, I’m sorry Joseph. I just do not have the facilities for woman that is clearly about to give birth any day.
Oh! Don’t look at with me with those eyes you two! I simply haven’t got the room.
No, no, no. Don’t beg sir it isn’t dignified! Now all the room I’ve got left is in the stable out back. But if you stay in there you just need to promise not to spread that around town… Think of my reputation. It is unsanitary so I hope you brought plenty of linens with you.
Now off you go! I’ll bring you out a meal later on. Off you go now…
(go back to pulpit)
You are never going to believe what I just did. I rented out my stables! Yes, I know what I said. But the pair of them just looked so haggard and worn out. They have clearly been on the road for several days. I think that the young man had the look of a Galilean, how far do you think that is Galilee. 80 miles? Wow that is a long trip.
He had his young bride with him, you could tell that they had been recently married. Not much older than 15 I’d say. And she looked to be just days away from having a child. Could you image? Being that far along, traveling by donkey all the way over here. I wonder why he even brought her along. Who knows, young and starting a family… that will make you do weird things!
Now, how much do you think I could charge them for renting out the stable?
Half price!? (shocked) Now, now… that’s a little low, don’t you think. Especially because from the looks for her, they’re going to be running up to the house one night screaming for towels and boiling water!
Yes, now that seem much more fair. Half price, plus a handsome charge for any supplies and mid-wife-ing duties. Yes that’s more like it. More like it indeed. I can’t be running a charity here. Not with all the opportunities that the census brings. Am I right, or am I right!
I’d like to show you something before you go. Come out here on the porch for a moment. … Alright, now look up. … Do you see that star? … (irritably: Which star? Which star she asks… honestly) That one. The one that looks like it is literally hovering right over the house? The bright one, with the big tail. Yeah? Well, it just appeared out of no-where last night! What do you think that means? It’s making me kind of nervous. Far smarter people than I have said that meaning can be found in the movements of the stars. … It makes me feel like I’m missing something, you know? Something important…
Well, if it keeps it up, I’m going to get all sorts of people thinking it’s some kind of message. … I only hope that the message is “no vacancy!”
Now, friend. Are you all finished with you tea? I hate to be rude, but I have to get back to work. Denarii doesn’t grow on trees you know. And I’ve got a hungry looking young couple staying in my stable that needs some dinner. I suppose that’s the least I could do, given that I plan of taking their coins. Ha! A Stable… I’m a genius! I’m going to be rich!