No Room

I’ve been thinking about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. I know, “Duh, it’s Christmas time”, but I have been specifically thinking about a particular event. Mary and Joseph having “no room at the inn” (Luke 2:7).

My first thought was, “Inn…what kind of inn does the little town of Bethlehem have in the final moments of a world without a Savior?” So, I looked into it and found out that there are two trains of thought on this question. For most of us who have grown up hearing the Christmas story we have been led to believe that of the many inns in Bethlehem none of them had room, due to the Roman census, and Mary and Joseph were shuffled off to a barn or cave to give birth to Jesus.

In reality there would have been only one “inn” in Bethlehem.

caravansaray_shah-abbasi_karaj_panorama

This inn, called a “caravanserai” or “khan”, was a communal building used for travelers or merchants to sleep in while in the city. It was a large square building with a group sleeping area in the central courtyard and individual rooms around the perimeter. Some theologians and historians believe that this is how the story happened:

There were no individual rooms available for Mary and Joseph so the only area that they could sleep in was the group sleeping platform in the courtyard. The inn keeper, being a decent, God-fearing man, gave up the only “private” place available, the barn. He couldn’t let this frightened, young mother give birth in a crowded courtyard in front of a bunch of smelly travelling salesmen.

The second version of this story has to do with the multiple meanings of the Greek word “katalyma”. Luke actually uses this word later, as does Mark, when describing how Jesus requests a room for the Passover meal with his disciples:

It is presumed that katalyma refers to Joseph’s family’s home. Joseph has returned for the Roman census to his hometown, where he must have some family, and this family would have a guest room in the top floor of their home. This would have been a single large room where several people would be sleeping. Joseph’s well-meaning and thoughtful cousins would never dream of having Mary give birth in the middle of a room filled with people. So, when the time came, she was led down stairs to one of the stable rooms, which are attached to the house. Then she is able to give birth in private in a relatively warm and cozy part of the house where there was most definitely a manger.

So what? Well, I see these two scenarios as an opportunity to examine our own lives and how we live for Jesus. You see Jesus was either born among loving family members, safe in a warm home, or, he was born in a kind-hearted stranger’s barn. But until I really paid attention to the story that the Bible tells I thought that Jesus’ parents had been turned away by a callous, greedy inn keeper. A man who didn’t care about a young, pregnant woman and her poor husband. It was only when I stopped listening to the world and started listening to God that I discovered the truth.

You see the world wants us to believe that Christmas about something else besides Jesus. The world provides a lot of distractions, some even look spiritual and make you think you’re doing it “God’s way”, but when we stop, ask, and listen to God the truth becomes clear. So, take a moment this weekend and look at what God says Christmas is about, then tell someone else about what Jesus did for you and how you invited him in.

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