Summary: This is a deeper look at the translation "no room for them in the inn." It is not about there not being enough "space for lodging' but turns to become more about there not being enough "hospitality" for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.
“the inn hospitality”
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (NKJV)
Intro: There has been much deliberation and speculation over the whereabouts and lodging in this very familiar story of the birth of Jesus. It is the center piece for most all Christmas plays. Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem only to arrive at a town swollen beyond capacity by the other travelers who are also there to pay their taxes and be counted because of the census.
Early church paintings of the nativity depict a barn with fresh straw and animals peacefully surrounding the holy family. Others are slightly more crude pictures of a cave or dug out shelter but there is still a warm angelic glow about the scene.
Modern translations have only added to the confusion and mystery of where and under what conditions Jesus was born. There are a few specific definitions of the word “inn.” One meaning is a public Inn similar in our thinking to that of a hotel. While these existed in Jerusalem and other larger cities it is very unlikely that a small town like Bethlehem would have supported that. Others suggest a type of guest chamber that most houses would have had. A guest chamber would have ranged in size from a tiny room barely large enough for two people to sleep as in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10. While others interpret the inn as having a very large room upstairs, a room similar to the upper room where Jesus and the disciples had the Last Supper. (see Luke 22:11) That room is described as able to hold over a hundred and twenty people. Still another definition is that of a type of indoor stall as it was customary to bring the animals into the house at night for safe keeping.
Joseph being from Bethlehem might very well have had family or close friends in his home town that could have welcomed him into their home and shared the extra bedroom.
Some early language historians (Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas) point out that there would not have been just one single day for everyone to register for the census so the likelihood of the entire town being completely overrun at the same time is very small. In this case the census would have taken place over several days or weeks and so there would have been lodging scattered throughout the town of Bethlehem as people were coming and going.
If this shift of emphasis is away from the translation of “no room for them in the inn” to there was “no place found for them.” Then in other words it is not about there not being enough “space for lodging” but it turns to become more about there not being enough “hospitality” for Joseph who is not so welcome in his home town and Mary who is expecting a child and the slander and rumors of Mary being pregnant while only being pledged to be married all that happened before she was married.
A prophetic precursor to Jesus’ own words in Luke 4:24 “the truth is no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” Also, Luke 9:58 Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," words that describe the “inn hospitality” of his birth as well as “the inhospitality” later in His life.
Why is Jesus treated with such “inhospitality?” Away in a manger. His bed a cattle stall. Why is he born into such a mean estate? Is He really welcomed and treated any differently today?
The modern Christian and I will dare to presume even the American family, may it ever so feebleminded and lacking clear purpose and understanding, attempts to find a room for Jesus in their life. The Barna Group estimates that nine out of ten Americans have at least one bible in their house. The average American home has about five copies of the bible in their house. That is 1 billion four hundred and twenty six million five hundred thousand bibles. That is enough bibles placed end to end to circle the earth at least twice.
But hospitality is more than just finding a table or drawer or shelf to put Jesus on. The hospitality that Jesus wants is finding a place for Jesus in your heart, life and soul.
It is not about the location, it is about the attitude and lifestyle and the character and daily living that means we have found room for Jesus not just as a temporary place to sleep but a place where Jesus permanently takes up residence in heart and Christian community.