A Stable of Desperation

This imaginative story, including character names, was written as a sort of prequel to John Piper’s moving story, The Innkeeper.

The first Christmas night was a holy night. But it was not a silent night. All was not calm. After walking a hundred miles, Joseph arrived in an overcrowded Bethlehem, with a wife in advanced labor. And “there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

“We are completely full. We can’t take another person.”

“Please, my wife is about to give birth! We’ll take anything with a little privacy.”

Compassion and exasperation mixed in the fatigued innkeeper’s eyes. His tired hand rubbed over his head. “Look, I would give you our own quarters, but we’ve already given them to others. People are in every nook and cranny. There is no room, especially to have a baby.”

Back in Nazareth, Joseph had felt so confident. He knew nothing about assisting in births. That was women’s domain. But God had sent his angel to Mary and to him. God had caused Mary to get pregnant. God had turned the stream of mighty Augustus’s heart (Proverbs 21:1) so that the Messianic prophesy about Bethlehem would be fulfilled. Surely God would provide their needs when they arrived. After all, this Child was God’s Son!

But now Joseph was growing desperate. Bethlehem was overrun with people. The Roman census got the Messiah to Bethlehem, but it left him no place to lay his head.

“Are there other inns here?”

“No. Bethlehem can’t keep two inns in business — usually. You don’t have any family in the area?”

They heard Mary cry out in pain.

Nearly frantic, Joseph spared his words. “No. Please! Is there anyone who could take us in?”

“Everyone I know is already housing guests.”

Joseph pleaded this silent word: Please, God! Please! We need a place! Give us a room! Send your angel! Do something!

The two men looked vacantly at each other for a tense five seconds. Then Joseph choked out, “Please, we’ll take anything!

At that moment a woman appeared behind the innkeeper and said, “We have a stable in the back.”

“Rachel, this man’s wife is about to give birth! We can’t put her in the stable!”

“I heard,” she answered. “But there’s no more time and it’s better than the street, Jacob. I’ll get some blankets and clean straw.” She looked at Joseph, “I’ll meet you in the back. I can help with the birth too. Tell her it will be okay. God will help you.”

“Thank you!” Joseph said. Thank you, God! he said in his head.

But as he turned toward Mary relief collided with regret inside of him. Rachel’s help was a gift. But a stable? That’s the best he could provide for his trusting wife and the Son of the Most High? How could God’s Son be born in a stable?

“Joseph!” Mary’s cry was more urgent.

No more time. With gentle swiftness Joseph picked Mary up and carried her toward the back of the inn.

Mary's breathing was labored. “They have a room?”

Joseph felt a stab of shame. But Mary needed reassurance. “All they have is the stable. It’ll be okay. We’ll make it clean, and the innkeeper’s wife is going to help us. God is providing.”

“Thank you, God!” she whispered. And then clutched Jacob’s neck tightly as another pain seized her and pushed the Light further into the world.

A stable was not where Joseph wanted to be that night. It held no romance for him. He was only there out of desperation.

But the stable was not about Joseph or Mary. It was about the Son of God making himself nothing (Philippians 2:7). He had come to humble himself to unfathomable depths. So he borrowed a stable for his birth. Later, after an excruciating death to make propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10), he would borrow a tomb (Matthew 27:59-60).

And in that is a Christmas word to us. There are times, while seeking to follow God faithfully, we find ourselves in a desperate moment, forced to a place we would not choose to go. It’s then we must remember: we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Our lives and circumstances are not ultimately about us. They are about Jesus Christ. The Father has purposes for us and our hardships that extend far beyond us. And often what appears like a misfortune or a lack of provision in the moment later proves to be a means of great mercy.

So maybe what we need most this Christmas is not less turmoil, but more trust. For God chooses stables of desperation as the birthplaces of his overwhelming grace.

The Innkeeper book

What did it cost to house the Son of God? Through this imaginative poem, John Piper shares a story of what might have been — an innkeeper whose life was forever altered by the arrival of the Son of God.

Ponder the sacrifice that was made that night. Celebrate Christ’s birth and the power of his resurrection. Rejoice in the life and light he brings to all. And encounter the hope his life gives you for today — and for eternity.