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Reprise: Inn That Missed Its Chance

Editor’s note: The following column appeared in the Nevada Appeal on Dec. 24, 1995. Appeal reader Bonnie J. Ryan wrote in this week and suggested that we republish it, given its timeless message. “We are living in a tumultuous world of the unknown, the unbelievable, the unwanted,” Ms. Ryan wrote. “Perhaps this small apology will help others who have said, ‘How was I to know?’

“Guy Shipler is gone now,” she continued, “but there are many in Carson City who remember his Sunday expositions and how relevant they were, just as some will remember (Appeal senior political columnist) Guy Farmer.”

By Guy Shipler

The highlight of my father’s tenure as vicar of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in our home town of Chatham, N.J., was the annual midnight service on Christmas Eve. For me, it was then that the magic of my favorite time of year reached its peak; it was then that the mystical expectancy seemed almost tangible with its sense of joy and laughter and goodwill.

One such Christmas Eve long ago, Dad ended his sermon with a blank verse poem so illustrative of the true meaning of Christmas that I asked him to read it at every midnight service from then on. He did so until he retired.

The poem itself is somewhat of a mystery. Apparently written by an Englishman named Amos R. Wells, it simply arrived at the office of The Churchman, of which my father was editor. No explanation. No urgency to publish it. Just the author’s signature.

I have kept it and read it every Christmas Eve since then. When my late wife Marian and I got a moment alone during the hectic rush of the holidays, we would read it together.

Its impact was spiritually cleansing because it so sharply brought us down to the essence of what we are celebrating. It graphically puts into perspective our human foibles, such as concentrating so much on material things we can see that we miss the unseen realities we should feel. When we learn of it later, we lament only the ego loss of not being able to boast that we were involved in an event that made us special. So it was with the innkeeper.

Now it is time for me to turn over this vivid scene to others, with the hope that the unknown author’s view of what might have been will be as helpful to them as it has been to Marian and me.

THE INN THAT MISSEDITS CHANCE

(The Landlord speaks, A.D. 28)

What could be done? The inn was full of folks –

His Honour, Marcus Lucius, and his scribes

Who made the census: honorable men

From farthest Galilee, come hitherward

To be enrolled; high ladies and their lords;

The rich, the rabbis, such a noble thring

As Bethlehem had never seen before

And may not see again, And there they were,

Close herded with their servants, till the inn

Was like a hive at mourning time, and I

Was fairly crazed among them

Could I know that They were so important? Just the two.

No servants, just a workman sort of man,

Leading a donkey, and his wife thereon.

Drooping and pale – I saw them not myself.

My servants must have driven them away.

But HAD I seen them, how was I to know?

Were inns to welcome stragglers, up and down

In all our towns from Beersheba to Dan,

Til he should come?

And how were men to know?

There was a sign, they say. A heavenly light

Resplendent; but I had no time for stars.

And there were songs of angels in the air

And on the hills, but how was I to hear

Amid the thousand clamors of an inn?

Of course, if I had known them, who they were,

And he that should be born that night –

For now I learn that they will make him King.

A second Davis, who will ransonm us

Freom these Philistine Romans – who but he

That Feeds an army with a loaf of bread,

And if a soldier falls, he touches him

And up he leaps, uninjured … Had I known,

I would have turned the whole inn upside down;

His Honour, Marcus Latches, and the rest,

And then sent them all to stables, had I known.

So you have seen him, stranger, and perhaps

Again will see him. Prithee say for me,

I did not know; and if he comes again,

As he will surely come, with retinue,

And banners, and an army, tell my Lord

That all my inn is his, to make amends.

Alas! Alas! To miss a chance like that!

This inn, that might be chief among them all,

The birthplace of Messiah – had I known.

– Amos R. Wells