The Innkeeper: An Epiphany Poem

They were grateful lodgers,

considering the humble accommodations.

We did the best we could,

the place full up,

our stable the last corner we had.

Mary, who had a baby coming,

wanting only peace and privacy,

was happy with anything.

It was a birth like any other,

the mother spent, the baby crying,

the father bewildered.

I gave her swaddling clothes,

the ones my Daniel used.

Daniel was on my hip as I gave them,

and he wanted down,

and toddled over to the baby,

leaning close, patting his face.

We all laughed.


They stayed a couple of weeks,

we had no trouble with them.

Some shepherds came to visit,

the night that bright star had us all out and staring.

Then there were those foreign fellows,

I don’t know how they knew them…

but they didn’t stay long.

The next morning in fact, early,

her husband pounding on the door at daybreak,

wanted to settle the bill, with gold coins no less.

I went out to say good-bye.

Holding the baby tightly,

she looked grey with worry.

I hurried over, thinking the baby was sick,

but she told me of her husband’s dream,

that Herod was coming to kill their child

and now they were fleeing this very hour…

to Egypt, of all places!


I reassured her as best I could,

her not being from these parts.

It’s safe here, safe as anywhere, I told her.

And why would Herod take an interest

in any child in Bethlehem?

Egypt is a long way away–

I looked into her eyes,

you’ll go all that way, for a dream?

The last I saw of them, they were cresting that hill.

She looked back, and held up her hand,

and then they were gone, Egypt bound.


I did not think much about them again

until the day the soldiers came.

Herod’s men, silent and brutal,

untouched by any mother’s screams.

House to house, they searched for children under two.

I was standing here by the window when they came

and tore my Daniel from my arms.

They left him lying on the ground outside…

and I tell you that day a sword pierced my soul also.


The crying on the outside has stopped,

but inside I’m still weeping for Daniel

and every other missing child.

I think of Mary in Egypt with her baby in her arms,

all ours dead and buried.

If we had known the danger,

we would have left everything and followed her.


The anger that fills me now is bigger than my life.

It looks for a king whose bloody men

come armed and armoured for babes in arms.

It looks toward Roman rulers that leave our men

enraged and helpless, knowing that survival

depends on accepting suffering, at least for now.

And my anger ranges as far as God’s throne,

challenging a deity who sends dreams to only one. 

Would it have been too much to ask for a dream

that warned of danger for all Bethlehem’s children?


My mind swirling with anger and grief,

I sit here empty lapped,

and my dreams are all of Egypt

and a baby safe in his mother’s arms.

New Book Coming Soon!

Carol Penner has written a devotional book for Lent that explores the challenges of repentance and forgiveness. Forty reflections and prayers to deepen your walk with God as you prepare for Easter.  

You can order it here!

About Carol Penner

I am a Mennonite pastor currently teaching theology at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. I’ve served congregations in Ontario and most recently, Alberta.

I love to write and to lead worship! If you are finding my writing helpful, I would love to hear from you! Feel free to use or adapt the material here, it is all written by me. If printing material, please credit “Copyright Carol Penner” (and say whether you modified it). If publishing, please contact me for permission. Contact me at

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