We're taking a different look this year at how we welcome Jesus into our Christmas by talking about accommodations. Accommodations in the Christmas story. Accommodations in our lives. Let's revisit scripture to begin.
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Matthew 1:18-19 NIV
Remember this? Here is Mary, chosen to carry the Christ Child and her fiancée is going to divorce her – break off the engagement – before he is even born.
In the first Century, in their culture (Jewish – remember there were many different sects) you had to have a reason to break off an engagement. Adultery was the main one. We’ll talk about another in a minute.
For now, let’s go back to Matthew…
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Wow. First Christmas miracle.
So what happens then? You know the story, right?
Caesar Augustus declared that a census must be taken. Everyone back to their family's hometown. Joseph’s family was King David’s family and so they had to go to Bethlehem. Mary had to go, too, because they were engaged – and she was “with child.” They arrive and there is no room in the inn – the first century Motel 6. The innkeeper feels sorry for them and lets them go out to the barn. She gives birth. Everyone comes to visit. And we have the manger scene that, though now improper to display in public places, we see everywhere. Or, if it is like our house, we have an entire display. I love manger scenes. Who doesn’t?
So, if you begin thinking about this story, you can draw all kinds of conclusions that might have some application to your life.
Why did Joseph not have a place to stay? Poor planning? They were running late? Pregnant women struggle traveling now, much less then when they were walking or on the proverbial donkey.
Did he not have a place because they weren’t married, and she was pregnant? Maybe word traveled quicker than they did. “Oh my. A disgrace. They aren’t staying in my house.” Did the innkeeper just tell them that he had no room but really did? Did he accommodate them in the barn because he was concerned for them, or he simply wanted to prove a point?
The Christmas story is a great example of a history of interpretations bent to suit a speaker’s or a denomination’s desires.
As you know, I went to the Holy Land in 2010. Our primary guide was a man named Charles Page, a biblical archaeologist. He has written a number of books. Historically speaking, this likely isn’t the way it happened. And in fact, modern interpretations of the scripture don’t disagree.
Let’s start with Mary’s pregnancy. Premarital sex wasn’t uncommon with most Jewish sects. In fact, it was often encouraged so that the parties could determine whether they might be fruitful have families. If they weren’t, that was grounds for calling off the engagement. So, that shoots down notions about the Christmas story and their accommodations.
Let’s look at the rest of the story from a modern, scholarly, well-researched interpretation of the ancient scriptures from their original Greek. Here’s Luke.
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. [SO FAR SO GOOD]. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Luke 2:1-7 NIV
First century Palestine homes in this region were not homes as we think of them. Many were dug out of the ground. They were not wooden structures. Bethlehem and Nazareth were full of these cave homes. Soft limestone. And there weren’t barns per se. The families kept their livestock in their home overnight. To protect them. To help keep the house warm. They would be in the front room, often on a lower level. A manger is simply a trough in which an animals feed was placed. In these homes, it was often carved out of the floor of the upper area or out of the wall in the lower area.
Guests were frequent and always welcomed. Many “upper middle class” folks had guest rooms, which served more than one purpose. The modern translators basically agree that this wasn’t an innkeeper.
Childbirth was full of uncleanliness, so far as first Century Jews were concerned. You wouldn’t want a child born where people ate. So, Mary may well have been in the lower area. But people wouldn’t have considered that gross or untidy. And she likely had a midwife. Anyone would have taken them in especially if she was about to give birth.
So, perhaps you’ve learned some trivia. Why do I say its trivia? Why do we not have these details? Because they don’t matter. Regardless of what you are trying to package from this scripture, you shouldn’t have to work too hard to figure out why we have what we have in the scriptures. Now, a knowledge of the times helps to interpret it as it was originally told or written, but it is the basic truths that we are looking for.
· Jesus came to this world in a simple way. He was not royalty or welcomed that way. He was one of us.
· He came to us in human form. He knows how we feel. He knows pain, hunger, joy, anticipation, confusion, frustration, etc.
· Joseph had to swallow is pride to accommodate the Christ child. He had to have faith.
· Mary had to have faith.
· They had to rely on others.
· Others help them in their time of need.
Lessons for us?
· Do we accommodate others to do God’s will?
· Do we swallow our pride to live the life Jesus wants us to live?
· Do we help others in their time of need?
· Do we accommodate God’s will in our own lives, on his schedule, not our own?
This Christmas, think about accommodations. While things may not always be as they seem, biblical truths, Christ’s truths, God’s truths, are always there. And through our faith, we must find ways to accommodate them.