One of the most charming features of the Christmas season is the Nativity Play.
The children vie for the different roles in the drama: who will be Joseph, or Mary? Who will play the shepherds or kings? Who will be the angels, or the animals? Sometimes it can be very competitive - if not amongst the children, then certainly between their parents.
Let me ask a question. If we were casting a Nativity Play tonight, who would you want to be?
Mary, perhaps? Well, of course, many of the girls want to be Mary: to put on the simple blue robes, to rock the baby in front of the crib, to be the ultimate centre of attention. It is, after all the leading role - to be the one who shows their love for the child Jesus, and so represents everyone there.
Or Joseph? Yes, the lads might want to be Joseph. The most important man in the scene, caring for his wife with some tenderness. Looking on with wonder at the new born child.
What about a shepherd? or a king? Yes, the rest of the lads will fight over who would be a shepherd or a king. Lots of shepherds of course - and that’s easy: a towel for a headdress and some old pyjamas, just about suffices. Rough and ready, the shepherds: that suits most of the lads. The ordinary working folk who come to worship their maker.
And posher people can be the kings - well to do that you have to be a bit more clever. You have to carry important objects, and perhaps even speak, saying “where is the child?” and “follow the star” and remember to say “frankincense” and not “frankenstein”. It’s the kings who remind us this baby is the real Lord of heaven and earth.
And the rest of the girls get to dress up as angels. Oh yes, I know that in the Bible angels are always male, but in a nativity play what lad wants to dress up in a white frock with a halo and wings? Get me an old towel anyday! And so the girls serve as the angels, who bring the worship of all creation before its Lord.
And there are some other roles, especially for the also rans, the last ones to get picked for the team, the ones who can’t be trusted to keep still or who could never remember their lines. They get to be sheep and donkeys and - if they are really naughty - the back end of the camel. In their humility they remind us of the humility of God himself.
So who would you be? Which role would you like to take on?
I’ll tell you who I’d like to be: the innkeeper.
Not because he gets to look after the beer - though that has its attractions. Nor even because his inn is undoubtedly a four star trattoria of culinary excellence.
No - I would want to be the innkeeper because he is the one who gives the Son of God his first earthly home. Simple, basic and makeshift at that. But a roof over his head, a home nonetheless.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the innkeeper did not turn him away. Or ignore him. Or leave him for others to deal with. He welcomed him. Come, let us adore him.