There is evidence that everyone’s childhood Christmas play is wrong. There was no innkeeper who shut the door in Mary and Joseph’s face. There was no dirty stable outside the hotel that they took to instead. They were not alone in Joseph’s ancestral home, fending for themselves.
That was the Christmas story in my head. A few years I learned that what we have often translated as ‘inn’ (Luke 2:7) is better translated as ‘guest room’, the same as the ‘upper room’ (Luke 22:11) where Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper. Just like in our houses now, it was a set aside room for guests when they were travelling. So since it was during the census and everyone had to get back to Bethlehem, other relatives had already occupied the guest room. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in that room.
Homes in this period were built differently than they are today; because homes got cold and there was no such thing a central heating, homes were constructed with integrated stables on the first floor, with the living space above. This provided shelter for the animals and took advantage of their residual body heat to warm the family living space. So since there was no more space in the rest of the house, the expectant couple moved down to the ground floor.
Maybe I’m the only one that’s wondered, but I’ve been trying to figure out how many other family members were crowded in with the animals that night. If everyone was there for the census and they couldn’t find a space for them in any of the relatives’ guest rooms, then it must have been more than just one or two couples looking for a place to stay that night. Were the cousin’s children relegated to the first floor, too, young enough to sleep in the hay and still be able to get up in the morning? Was privacy at a true premium that night?
I can just imagine being in Mary’s shoes that night. In all of Scripture, the personality I identify with the most is Mary’s response in Luke 2:19. She “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” When even more people poured into the already crowded stable to pay laud to her newborn son, she was able to store up these things in her heart and ponder them quietly, trusting in the promise made to her by Gabriel many months before.
I struggle with promises like that. I have difficulty hearing them without the voice of an angel and I’m jealous of those that have heard God’s promises so clearly. Can you imagine being in such a situation, with all of your modesty compromised, already in a position of shame being an unwed pregnant woman, giving birth in the stable of your betrothed’s relatives and then descended upon by yet more strangers? What an awful, terrifying position! That would be no one’s picture of bringing their firstborn into the world.
But yet, she still had faith. She still believed. She held on tight to the promises Gabriel made her that night.
Lord, grant me the steadfastness of Mary. Grant me the patience of Mary. Grant me the faith of Mary.