Making Room at the Inn
Why was there no room at the inn for Joseph and his very pregnant wife, Mary?
One reason, of course, is that the little town of Bethlehem was overrun by people who had returned for the registration and needed a place to stay. However, Bethlehem was such a little town that it almost certainly had no motels or what today we would consider “inns.” The word that is translated into English as “inn” is most likely the same word that is used for a large porch area that Ancient Near East wilderness area folks would keep as a place to extend overnight hospitality to travelers in need of a place to stay. On a few trips to Israel, our bus stopped in the Bedouin community and our entire bus load was received with tea and flat bread on a large porch. We learned that in English these porches were called “inns.”
Think of an Airbnb room, only rent free. So it is possible that everyone had given out their spare room and that those rooms were packed to capacity in Bethlehem.
There is another possibility. Since the visitors were going back to Bethlehem because that is where they came from, likely people were staying in the inns of relatives. So maybe Joseph and Mary’s relatives had already filled up their inn with relatives. But maybe, just maybe, the front room inn still had space, but the other relatives or the homeowner did not want to be sharing space with a couple who were pregnant out of wedlock. That sort of thing could do real damage to the family’s reputation in a small town! So there was “no room.”
So Mary and Joseph are quite possibly denied housing with their more respectable relatives but at least are given the opportunity to sleep out back with the animals.
Maybe one of the real lessons of Christmas is that we not make the same mistake as they made in Bethlehem. Let us open our hearts and hands to those who might ordinarily not be considered righteous or respectable. Perhaps those folks are already at the front porch of our home, church, or community. Will we be open this Christmas? Will we make room in our “inns”?