I published this short story a few years ago. But, thought I would republish it again, as I have thought more and more about the different versions of the story of Jesus’s birth. Our Christmas Cultural icons are beloved by us all as we teach our children the familiar stories of “No room in the Inn”, “The Manger”, and “the Shepherds”. But, just like the fact that Jesus was probably born during the spring – not at the Winter Solstice – much of these Christmas stories are most likely not correct for the time Jesus was born.
Heresy you cry?
But, is it heresy to see the birth of Jesus in the light of what most likely occurred? Here is a link to a well written article from Biblearchaeology.org, written by Kenneth Bailey, Phd., that discusses what most likely happened. Plus, a few other articles that speak to the same cultural dynamics that existed at that time.
No first century Hebrew family would have turned away a relative, and a pregnant one at that. And, there was no INN in Bethlehem. Jesus was born surrounded by His family AND the animals surrounding the manger. Only, it was part of the home of his cousins. The animals always stayed in the house. I find it comforting to know that Jesus was born to us in a regular home surrounded by His family. Rather than shunned and forced into the cold Israeli winter night.
I remember that night as if it happened yesterday. I imagine anyone in that situation would remember also. How could one forget?
Herod had ordered that a census be taken. This required the people of Israel to return to their ancestral place of origin, their tribal homeland. I don’t remember having so many relatives. For the 3 weeks leading up to the census, Aunts and Uncles, and so many cousins, flowed into Bethlehem. They came from Egypt and Syria, even from Greece and Crete. The reunions were joyous and work seemed to come to a grinding halt.
So by the time that Joseph and Mary showed up at my door, every house in the village was full to overflowing with members of our tribe returned from distant corners of the World. My house was full to the brim. Every spot that could sleep a person was filled with cousins, and my oldest son and his family were in the guest room. A fire was on the hearth and a lively discussion of the rumors of a coming messiah was going strong.
Then there was a knock on the door.
That night was cold and cloudless, and the Moon was new which made the night extremely dark. It was already late and the doors had been shut and barred. But, something told me I needed to open the door. So I did and there they stood. Joseph, a hopeful but exhausted look on his face after finally reaching his ancestral home. Mary, equally exhausted and magnificently pregnant. I remember standing there staring at them, my breath condensing in the cold air.
I asked them what they wanted and Joseph, explained who he was; “I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar, the son of Eliud,”. I knew the expected reply should be; “You are welcome. What can we do for you?”. Matthan was my Uncle on my Father’s side, so there before me was a cousin, I could not refuse the request I knew was coming. But, the house was full there was no room for another family, and potentially a newborn.
Joseph began to explain that he was here for the census and the obvious situation they were in with Mary his wife.
As I was about to turn them away, I felt my wife’s presence next to me. So I turned and looked at her. There was that look. As if she knew what I was thinking. Her thoughts said, “Don’t you dare turn away a pregnant young girl from our door. Or I will break your arm, you heartless clown!” Then I opened the door further and everyone in the house could see who and what was at our door. There they all were on the upper level of my house warm and filled with their dinners and the wine we had served. The animals on the floor behind us began to stir as the cold air began to disturb them.
What was I to do? They are all staring at me! The house was full! Where would they sleep? And, what if the Baby came?
I looked at my wife and she looked at me and Joseph and Mary and said, “Of course you can stay here!” The situation made me frustrated, embarrassed, and I became angry at her and exclaimed, “I am the man of the house, it is my responsibility to make that decision.” So I pulled my Tallit around me and walked out into the night. Perhaps Our Lord would tell me what to do. And, as I walked out the door I saw my wife ushering Joseph and Mary into the house.
I walked up the hill and began to ask the Great Lord of our people what I should do in this situation. And, at first there was silence. But, after a few desperate minutes I heard Him say.
“Well, you are the man of the house….you make the decision…..” Then more silence.
So I started to plead with Him. But, He interrupted me…”HOWEVER, if it is my opinion you are seeking. I can tell you this. These ones are special and beloved of mine. What is about to happen you don’t want to miss!”
Needless to say, The Almighty knew exactly what He was talking about.