“Sorry, no more room,” the Inn Keeper must have said to Joseph (Luke 2: 1ff).
How could there be no room for a pregnant woman whose baby had dropped, and was ready to give birth? No room in the inn? Really? The common belief is that Bethlehem was too crowded to accommodate one more family. Bethlehem, a small town of less than 1,000 people, was not designed to accommodate all the visitors – up to the 28th generation of King David, who reported to register. Other possible reasons?
- The Inn was going for a premium, only the richest got accommodation, the poor had to search for room and by then, the town square was full, also, Joseph needed a private place for Mary to have the baby
- Most of the descendants of King David had lost their clout as a result of being vassals to the Babylonians and other foreign powers, and later, the Roman Empire, therefore getting a room for them was not a priority
All sound explanations, but in a culture that was reputed for their hospitality to strangers (Genesis 24: 29 – 33; I Kings 17: 1ff), is it likely that nobody could provide a small space for a mother who was about to give birth? Even the city of Sodom had at least one man who showed hospitality to strangers–strangers who turned out to be the angels of the Lord–howbeit too late to save the city for lack of a quorum of 10 righteous people (Gen 19: 1ff). What could be the other reasons?
Speculatively, here are other possible reasons:
- Chivalry was dead in Israel by that time. Given normal circumstances, even the wealthy, and in particular, the women, would empathize with a pregnant mother, especially one in her last trimester
- Those who could help were unaware and the Inn Keeper was hampered from getting help fast, because of the crowd
- There were too many pregnant mothers to accommodate; Mary and Joseph arrived too late to get to the top of the list
- The baby came too fast for Joseph, or anyone who wished to help, to find a better accommodation
These too give another set of very plausible reasons. But, could there be more reasons?
Joseph and Mary came from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because Joseph was of the household of David (some believe so was Mary – many married within their tribe . . . including, their cousins. Some of the current monarchs and aristocrats today are married to their relatives – the Internet lists many nobilities and heads of states who married their cousins). Since the decree was for all to be counted in their home town, it is possible that other relatives from Nazareth and those who knew Mary’s story had also come. Did the circumstance of Mary’s pregnancy precede her? If so, how did the Inn Keeper feel when Joseph stepped up to ask for a room for his pregnant fiancée who was not carrying his baby?
Those who came to Bethlehem to register were descendants of King David. How did they feel about having a woman with such a reputation among them?
Could the “no room in the inn” mean more?
- No room for the likes of your fiancée?
- No room for one whose baby should not mix with ours?
- No room for a woman you should not be associating with?
Had the Jewish leaders known Mary was carrying the promised Holy Messiah (Isaiah 7: 13 – 14; 9: 6 – 7; 11: 5; Micah 5: 2ff) and had they accepted Mary as the one that should carry such an esteemed Baby, would she have suffered the humiliation she and Joseph experienced?
When a royal baby is on the way, how do the fans and the loyal subjects usually react?
Had the Jewish people known and accepted the birth of Christ, a different scene could have played out:
- If Mary had been allowed to travel in that condition, an entourage of Jewish dignitaries would have most likely descended on Bethlehem with trumpet sounds, despite Ceasar Augustus’ decree:
o The inn would have been emptied of all, but the most privileged
o Guards everywhere
o Dignitaries coming and going
o Rooms sanitized and re-sanitized, until not a fly allowed to slide by
o Only select midwives and medical personnel allowed access to the mother
- Others from the different households of Israel would have lobbied to have their registration rerouted to Bethlehem, or they might have insisted that the Baby be born in Jerusalem where more spectators – all Israel – waiting for the coming Messiah, could participate in the birth.
- Prophets, royal seers, and dignitaries would have provided the countdown
- The public would have camped out and jockeyed for position to have the best seats in town
In other words, forget Augustus’ decree to register. One occasion when the Jewish people could have challenged the Romans, would have been in the arrival of the Messiah, whom Israel had been expecting. Yet what does the LORD do? He selects Mary, an obscure descendant of King David, who was willing to carry the Royal seed, despite the challenges – misunderstood, mislabeled (good girls don’t get themselves pregnant before they marry – it was punishable) and ostracized.
Instead of arriving in a chariot with a trumpet fanfare, and a red carpet welcome, Mary and her betrothed arrive in Bethlehem as extras, with no room. Although Joseph was from Bethlehem, he probably had no close relative who resided in the town who could accommodate him and his fiancée, or surely, they would have helped him?
God selected a young woman who could suffer the indignities of carrying His Baby to full term, with all the discomfort thereof and a man who would give her the dignity that another man would have denied her. Joseph, a carpenter, also thought outside the norm – from no room in the inn, to an animal cave. Babies don’t wait to announce their arrival, when they are ready to get out, they get out – on the road, on the freeway, in the ambulance, at home before the ambulance arrives – wherever. Joseph had to prepare a place fast.
Joseph demonstrated the ingenuity of a man who was willing to humble himself to allow his fiancée to have her baby with dignity and in private, howbeit, in a makeshift, smelly, animal shelter. This was a lot better than leaving Mary vulnerable to being a spectacle in the public town square.
Instead of the pompt of a royal birth, the LORD announced the birth of His son – the One who would be Shepherd and King – to the shepherds and foreigners from far. Some scholars believe that the shepherds were no ordinary shepherds, but those responsible for raising the special sheep used for the Jerusalem Temple sacrifice. Also, the Bible does not indicate how many wise men came, just that they brought three gifts to the Child.
So it was that the LORD permitted the ordinary and the peoples from distant lands to worship the New Born King – nobility, and ordinary people all bowing at His feet.
No room in the Inn, no room for dignity, except in an animal cave, no room for red carpet welcome – Mary’s red carpet, brown dirt and straw meant for the comfort of donkeys and sheep. No room for the Son of God among the elite members of King David’s royal line.
He came to His own and His own did not recognize Him and did not accept Him, but to all who believe, Jew and Gentile, He gave them the same privilege to be called the children of God (John 1: 10 – 13).
So every Christmas, as you and your household celebrate, remember to give thanks that over two thousand years ago, God, our loving Father, sent His only Son to earth to live among us as an ordinary, yet extraordinary man, then die and resurrect for our sin, so that anyone – rich, or poor; noble, or common – who wishes, could choose eternal life with Him through Christ.
A Very Blessed and Happy Christmas!