No room in the inn? - The Myths of Christmas #2

December 19, 2020

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Was there no room in the local hotels in Bethlehem for Mary and Joseph to have their baby? Did the townspeople slam doors in their face as they rushed around looking for a place to bear a child? In this second episode of "The Myths of Christmas", learn a bit more about what an "inn" might have been, and what the larger story of the birth of Jesus means for humanity.


Hey everyone, welcome to episode number two of The Myths of Christmas. Today’s myth: “Jesus was born in a barn or in a cave with a bunch of animals around him because the local hotel in Bethlehem was full.”

We’ve got a Christmas song that might make this aspect of the birth of Jesus more familiar to us. You know, "Away in a manger, no crib for a bed / The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head / or even another verse… / The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes / But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes"

Well, this Christmas hymn first appeared in America in the late 1800s, and some ascribe at least a couple of verses of it to Martin Luther, but that’s often disputed. So in order to bring some clarity, let’s talk about the last phrase in Luke chapter 2 verse 7 - it says there was no place for them in the inn. We shouldn't take "inn" to mean "hotel room" like the way we think of it in modern society. There are so many theories about what this "inn" actually was - some say it was just an "upper room" in a house, and that has support from the fact that the Greek word used is the same one used to describe the upper room that Jesus had the Passover meal in with his disciples before his crucifixion. So saying there was no room for them in that guest room meant that they had to sleep in an area of the home typically set aside to keep animals safe from predators and thieves at night. Perhaps other pilgrims on their way back to Bethlehem had already taken the guest space and there was simply no more room for Mary and Joseph.

Now what’s a manger? A manger is NOT a stable or a big building where animals lived. We may get that idea from movies, Christmas plays, and nativity figure scenes from department stores. A manger is simply a feeding trough for animals. In the first century some mangers were made out of stone, and was just where food was placed and animals would eat out of. Maybe this was just me, but growing up I always thought that the manger was the actual building, not the small feeding trough that the animals would eat out of.

Something else that’s also interesting to note is that there's nothing in the Biblical account about a harsh innkeeper or unwelcoming townspeople that slammed their doors on a pregnant couple rushing around looking for a place to have their baby. In the culture of the day, it could have been that every woman in the town, young and old, would have been at Mary’s side for the birth, rejoicing and offering encouragement and comfort.

Now though there is a veil drawn over the details in Luke’s Gospel, the larger, more important point that we have to see is that Mary was deprived of many of the normal comforts for the birth of Jesus. So whether there’s animals or no animals, whether Jesus was born in a cave or in a house in a room set apart for the animals, or whether Mary and Joseph were alone or they had company, we can’t miss the larger story going on. The angel Gabriel, the same angel that had appeared to Daniel to share the details about how God’s covenant with Israel would unfold, he had shown up nine months before and had told Mary that her child was the Messiah, the one who would restore the nation of Israel and rule with righteousness and justice. The prophets say that this king would be esteemed and honored not just by the nation of Israel but by all the nations. We can't let our overfamiliarity with the story rob us of the awe and wonder of what really happened here, and especially what the birth of Jesus means for the continuing story of Israel as the nation through which God promised to bless all the other nations. As 2020 has been quite an interesting year here in America and across the world, we have to remember the predictions of the prophets, that the son of David, the righteous branch, he will come and execute justice and righteousness among the nations. There’s only one who is worthy to rule the nations, and that’s the Messiah, the king of Israel, Jesus, the one we remember this season. And so as you reflect with family and friends, may we not forget why Jesus was born and what his ultimate destiny is - to be the righteous ruler of the earth. A day is really coming when He who came in such lowly manner and who was despised and rejected among his own people will return to reign from Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and all the earth will flourish under his leadership.

Well that’s it for this one. Drop a like on this video and share it with your friends. If you’re interested in learning more, check out all the videos here on my Youtube channel. You can also check out an audio podcast that I contribute to with a couple of fellow pastors, the link is in the description below. God bless, and I’ll see you in the next one.

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