No one in the house knew what would happen that night. The whole town was rife with activity as people from all over came to the little village. There had been a decree that a census be taken and that meant each person had to travel to the town of their birth to be counted. It was an unexpected event and the little inn at the edge of the town was not prepared. There were too many people and too few rooms for them to occupy. They were short on linens for the beds and had to cut food portions in order to stretch what little provisions they had. Some travelers were complaining but most were understanding and all were less than comfortable. The house was crowded and the town was overcrowded…there was not a room left for anyone.
The little inn had filled up by mid-day and soon the patrons would be clamoring for food and drink. The master of the house had already used up what was in the house and had begun to take from the stores in the shed out back. There wasn’t much left, but he put what he could in a small box and set it by the door of the shed. He had also found some bits of cloth but they were not nearly big enough to be of any use to his guests so he just left them on the shelf. He then went over to milk the cow one more time. She was not very happy about it. The first chance she had she gave a swift kick just missing the master’s chin and knocking over the bucket in the process. He patted her side and spoke kind words hoping she would understand. She had made her point, and then gave a little more and went back to chewing.
As he carried the bucket over to where he had left the box he looked around knowing his job was not done. The shed needed to be cleaned for the night before the sheep came back in from the fields and the troughs needed to be filled with hay for them to eat. He stood for a moment and sighed knowing he had a job to do here but hearing the guests in the house clamoring for service and his wife running out of apologies. He put the bucket of milk down near the box of food; the guests would have to wait. He swept the floors and cleaned up the gutters from the night before and filled the water troughs with clean water. He grabbed some hay and filled all of the stalls and gave the old cow an extra helping while patting her on the head and leaning in to whisper a thank you in her ear. He had a bit of hay left so he put the extra in a little manger back in the corner near the storage shelves and gave the floor one last sweep. Suddenly he heard a crash in the house and his wife trying her best to give yet another apology. With a frustrated grunt and a duty-bound sigh he headed back to the house, forgetting all about the box and bucket of milk he went there for.
As night fell on the tiny town, the guests began to quiet down and settle in their little rooms for the night. There were a few still lingering and talking among themselves as the master and his wife finished cleaning up for the night. Just as they were finishing there was a knock at the door. The master shook his head hoping he had heard wrong…he had turned many away already and was tired and ready for bed himself. Again they knocked, this time a bit louder. He gave his wife a glance and reluctantly went to the door and opened it a bit knowing he would have to turn someone away. There at the door was a young man with a young girl astride a donkey. The young man explained how they had been traveling for days and that his wife was about to give birth. He begged for even a corner of a room that they could spend the night in. The master was overwhelmed. He knew he had no more room in his inn but this young couple was very much in need. He could not turn them away but he had nowhere to house them either. He thought for a moment and then mentioned that the only room he had, and likely the only room anywhere in the town, was back behind the inn in the little shed with the animals. The young man grabbed his hand and thanked him with a warm and relieved smile then quietly led the donkey with his young wife to the shed.
Finally, with everyone bedded down for the night, the master could crawl into his own bed and get some rest. As he blew out the last lamp he looked out the window surprised at how bright the night sky was. There seemed to be a star shining right above the little village. He looked over to the shed and noticed a dim lamp glowing among a few shepherds who had just come in with the sheep. He let out a sigh and slipped on his shoes and went out one last time to make sure everything was alright – the shepherds should still be out in the fields. As he neared the shed he noticed that the animals were all sleeping quietly and the shepherds were kneeling. As he came near he also noticed that the young man and his wife were cooing and cuddling their newborn child. They had found the bits of cloth he had left on the shelf and wrapped the child in them and then used the tiny manger in the corner to lay him in. The box of food and milk he had forgotten were nestled near the young man as they were all sharing from what had been provided. The young man looked up with tears streaming down his face and the innkeeper caught his eye, gave him a quick smile of understanding, then walked back to the house with a feeling that something in the world had just changed.
That night…he had the best sleep of his life.