As we open up the dialogue today, I want to begin to unpack the birth of Christ a bit. We can see the Joseph and Mary are travelling to Bethlehem for the purpose of the census (Luke2). Anyone that has been around a woman that is pregnant or has been pregnant themselves would know of the limited mobility when one is in the latter stages of that condition. In the midst of that, Mary endured. The almighty being woven together with in her as she rides with the faithful Joseph to Bethlehem, which fulfilled prophesy by the way (Micah 5:2).
If we start with the image of Mary riding the donkey as Joseph walks alongside on their way to Bethlehem, it would behoove us to backtrack just a bit to see what has happened. The angel announces the arrival of Christ through Mary to both Joseph and Mary at separate times (Matthew 1 & Luke 1). The announcement took place in Nazareth which is the place where the decedents of King David settled. The word Nazareth itself means “Branch Town”, which is important because of yet another prophecy (Jeremiah 33:15).
This announcement was very important for many reasons, but I would like to key in on one angle in particular. We see engagements in our modern western culture as a promise to get married. The engagement can be broken with, depending on the individuals, little to no repercussions save a bit of emotional distress. In the culture that we see Christ being inserted, it would carry a great deal more weight. To break an engagement would be much like a full blown divorce, and in Biblical culture, would carry much more scandal than it would today.
The announcement, however, meant the Joseph had a profound role to play in this process. I suspect that for the normal Jewish male at this time (and for the vast majority of us today) finding out our fiancé or wife was pregnant with a child when it is not possible that the child could be ours would cause us to react very swiftly and in a fashion that would cause a finality to the relationship. The visit from the angel legitimized the pregnancy, which kept Joseph in the relationship with Mary and the Son of God, whom Joseph was called to care for.
I always kind of wondered if Joseph ever resented being in this situation.
None the less, Joseph dutifully did as he was supposed to. There is no evidence of Joseph resenting the situation, in fact, he may have been overjoyed with the fact that he was chosen. We do see in he was considered a righteous man and wanted to deal kindly with Mary (Matt 1). I just inject the thought because it crosses my mind when I look at this narrative. Maybe I speak out of my own weakness and misunderstanding. As we take these facts to rejoin the image of Mary on the donkey and Joseph leading her along, they see Bethlehem in the distance.
Now, the normal custom was if you were traveling “home”, as we see Joseph was doing (Luke 2) you would stay in one of the guest rooms at a relative’s house. So, where does the inn keeper come in here? There are some interesting facts to take into account as we peel back what we see happening in the Bible. We see that the word used for inn (Katalyma) is the word used for a guest room in a home, not a “hotel” room (pandoxion or pandocheion). Basically, there was no room in the family home for them so they were sent to a back room where the beasts of burden were kept. Since they did not have automobiles back then, it would almost be as if Christ was born in the garage. There were animals involved, but it was probably not the nativity scene that we have grown accustomed to thanks to Francis of Assisi.
I wonder what that scene looked like as Joseph began talking to his relatives about a room and they said all that they had was room in the proverbial garage. “Mary is pregnant and you are going to put us up in your garage?” I am sure, being wearied from the travels he agreed to “crash” there. I sit back and admittedly speculate as I process through this story. I can also imagine after making sure that Mary was settled in, he walked outside and wept a bit. If I put myself in his shoes and I had the Christ coming and I was to provide for Him, a pregnant wife that I loved, and just being weary from traveling, and the weight of all of this upon his shoulders, I could see a tremendous amount of stress rising within him. That’s just me and maybe Joseph was a stronger man than I am.
Suddenly, possibly as Joseph is collecting himself and preparing to wind down for the night he hears, “Joseph! He is coming!”