Even people who are not otherwise familiar with scripture often know quite a few details of the Christmas story.
Since these images often come more from modern messaging than actually reading of the bible, many folks have images in their head of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a stable, shepherds in fields, three wise men arriving on camels and an innkeeper who has no room for a woman about to give birth. Some of these are entirely biblically accurate, and others are very much less so.
As our devotions from earlier in the week have shown, there were most certainly actual shepherds caring for real live sheep out in the actual fields surrounding Bethlehem. The bible doesn’t give us a number, but they were there.
We often have images in mind of three wise men visiting because three gifts are mentioned, but the bible doesn’t mention how many there were. Our nativity scenes place them there on the night of Christ’s birth, but Matthew’s gospel (the only one to mention the Magi) does not. There certainly could have been many more Magi who gave three gifts.
In fact, Matthew recounts the wise men coming to visit King Herod and asking him to help them find the one who had been born King of the Jews. Herod ends up telling them to go to Bethlehem and search carefully until they’ve found Jesus. The star finally leads them to the holy family and the house they are in. That’s right — a house! Some have used this fact to indicate that the Magi could have arrived days, months, or possibly even years later. Perhaps so, the bible doesn’t pin down the details. And the specific number doesn’t have any relevant impact on the occasion.
Everyone reads from the lens of their own experience and culture. Because some versions of the bible use the word “inn” for a word that had several possible meanings, many people picture some ancient version of a Holiday Inn or a Motel 6 and cast the innkeeper in very unfavorable light. But the biblical facts here may surprise you.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn today’s devotional in to a study of biblical Greek. But I’ll mention a couple of facts, explain one in a bit more detail, and then draw some interesting conclusions. (Well, I HOPE they’ll be interesting.)
Let’s begin with the verse for today:
WHILE THEY WERE THERE, THE TIME CAME FOR THE BABY TO BE BORN, AND SHE GAVE BIRTH TO HER FIRSTBORN, A SON. SHE WRAPPED HIM IN CLOTHS AND PLACED HIM IN A MANGER, BECAUSE THERE WAS NO GUEST ROOM AVAILABLE FOR THEM.
Let’s look at the key word describing the place where the family stayed. The King James Bible translates this word “inn,” as does several other translations. But many others describe it only as a place where someone can lodge, using words like guest room, guest quarters, guest chamber and even just “lodging place.” What’s significant here is that the word refers to a spare room in a private house, not a commercial place of business that offered shelter to strangers.
Last night my grandson found himself in the same situation Joseph and Mary faced. With four different out of town guests visiting for Christmas, we had no available beds in our home. We have a guest room, but it was full! So, we did what every family all over the world does in this situation, we found another comfortable place in the home to sleep. For my grandson, our living room couch served the purpose well. For Mary and Joseph, it was the part of the house where families typically brought their animals in for the night.
Because the space for guests was already full, they stayed in part of the place normally used by the family itself. We create the image of a cave or a stable because we know that Mary laid the Baby Jesus in a manger. But having a manger of hay for the animals to feed from was very common.
So enjoy your nativity scenes. We have one prominently displayed in our home. But recognize that they serve as a reminder of the cast of characters, not as a historical depiction of sleeping arrangements.
And by all means let the poor “innkeeper” off the hook. When Joseph showed up in his ancestral home, the rules of hospitality then would have dictated much the same expectation we have today. When family arrives in town, you find a way to make room. Some accommodations may be more comfortable than others; some will have beds, others couches, and perhaps a few get blankets and pillows on the floor. But you find a way to make room.
And perhaps that’s one of the overlooked lessons of Christmas. The lesson we all need to apply in our lives.
Make room for Jesus.
Make room in your heart. Make room in your life. Make room in your home.
You may need to re-arrange a few things, or make some adjustments. But He has come to you.
Make room for Jesus.