One of the events that has been held this year is the national census. Every ten years, the total number of individuals are counted where they live. Data from the census provides information for decision making for elections, funding, and long-term planning. This is not something new as even when Jesus was born, a census was taken, and all the residents in Israel had to journey back to their ancestral home to be counted. That meant Joseph had to take his betrothed, Mary, all the way to Bethlehem in Judea as he was from the line of King David.
Joseph and Mary lived in a little village hidden in the basin at the top of a hill in Galilee. It was small, Cana was bigger, and if you were travelling through the Galilee, you could pass the hill Nazareth was located on and not even know the village was there. Naturally, today Nazareth is a pilgrimage site and a large bustling city. Out of this village, Joseph and Mary would need to travel over 70 miles (as a crow would fly and much more on foot) to Bethlehem, probably through the Jezreel Valley to the Jordan river, south to Jericho and then up the very steep climb towards Jerusalem and then south to Bethlehem. Fit people would be able to travel about 20 miles a day, but for Joseph and Mary, even with a donkey, since Mary was nine months pregnant, the journey probably took them 7-10 days. Seven to ten days traveling on foot or on a donkey, without the comforts of home, wondering when the baby would come and dreaming of the place they can rest, be refreshed and potentially have their baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
They were brave and I am sure gave all their energy to make the trip, both physically and emotionally. As they drew close to their destination, they would see the shepherd’s fields, and finally the township. You can imagine them reaching their destination, potentially a relative’s house where the family would live downstairs and guests upstairs or on an elevated platform. The family animals would be in the rear of the house with feeding troughs. Instead of Mary and Joseph staying in the guest room with others when it was her time to give birth, it is conceivable they moved to the main floor. Many women would come in and out to assist Mary, with the men outside or upstairs, allowing the birth mother privacy. When Jesus was born, he would have been wrapped in clothes and laid in the stone manger fixed to the floor, that was across the room by the animals. The manger was a safe place while Mary recuperated.
We typically conclude there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary. A society based on hospitality would have families lodge guests in a designated space in their house. Mary and Joseph would not have stayed at a hotel/inn or put in a stable for animals behind an inn. They were not housed in a stable as wood would be scarce to build a structure, similarly the place of birth was probably not a cave unless the early Palestinian home was built at the front of the cave. Still Mary and Joseph were guests requiring hospitality just as Jesus also stated later in life that ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20b). He was to be a guest with those who invited him in.
We are blessed people who have a home, necessities, and provisions. Sometimes we can get so focused on these material items that we neglect to welcome Jesus into all aspects of our life. Yes, there is room Jesus! You are welcome! Yet we have concerns, worries, and demands upon our time, that we can forget to be with our resident ‘guest.’ Maybe it is time to allow Jesus to be at home as our Lord and Savior in our lives, and not just a guest into compartmentalized areas of our life.
Listen now to “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, and join us next week in this advent series as we reflect on the Good News announced to the shepherds and how they left everything to go and see the new born baby.