I have written a two part article about the Christmas Story for our weekly church newsletter The Village Weekly. In it I provide a few corrections and clarifications on the birth of Christ. You may agree with it or not but I find it fascinating.
The Christmas Story Revised, Part 1
We all know the traditional Christmas story. Joseph and Mary barely get to Bethlehem and find no room at the local inn so Mary has to give birth in an animal stable. Shepherds then come and visit them. Do you know this version is based on a book written 200 years after Christ's death? I won't bore you with the name, but suffice to say it was written by someone who didn't know the culture of Jesus' people. I would like to share with you some interesting finds from some very smart scholars who are setting the story straight. No more stable, no more inn, instead a beautiful picture of God's provision.
First, we must remember that Joseph and Mary went back for the census. Joseph had to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem and wouldn't have done it without preparations. Joseph, which means royal, was also from the lineage of David, King David, whose family happened to be a big thing around Bethlehem. It is hard to imagine that with family in town and Joseph's lineage that anyone would allow Mary to give birth in an animal stable. Add on top of that how much hospitality means to Middle Easterners and there is no way this would've ever happened.
Second, the word "inn" isn't the Greek word for "hotel", but "upper room". Sound familiar? The same word used for "inn" here is used for "upper room" in Luke 22:11 and means guest room. The word "inn" in the parable of the Good Samaritan is the word used for "hotel" and is totally different than Luke 2:7. So, where did Mary give birth? In Bethlehem most families had one room homes. The family room is where they lived, cooked, and slept. The inn was the guest room off the side of the house that was used for visitors. When Joseph and Mary visited some of Joseph's family, the guest room was already taken so they stayed in the family room with the main family.
Finally, the manger. Manger means feed trough, which would make you think of a stable, but in these one room homes there was an area that was about three to four feet lower than the rest of the floor. At night they would bring their livestock into the home to keep them safe and to provide heat for the home. Each morning they would then take them outside and tie them up. They would place a manger inside the area in case any of the animals got hungry in the middle of the night. After Mary gave birth to Christ she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him on a bed of fresh straw so that he could sleep.
Now, I know this might be blowing your mind but the scriptural backing for this is conclusive. Next week we will talk more about hospitality and the shepherds as we tie everything in to the Coming King.