I’ve always enjoyed nativity plays – the dressing up; creativity in turning children into cows, camels or stars; inventing characters or embellishing parts of the story (through ‘poetic licence’ or desire to give every child a part)… three innkeepers each saying, ‘No Room!’…
I’ve heard the Christmas story each December – Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, shepherds, wise men… I’ve told it myself with conviction because I believe it…
As a good Christian man I’m not required to have any doubts… but sometimes I’ve had questions in the back of my mind. Here are three of them:
- If Joseph’s family came from Bethlehem why was there nobody there that he knew?
- For Jews in that culture hospitality to strangers was obligatory. This didn’t happen.
- Priority is always given to pregnant women – particularly if birth is imminent. This didn’t happen either.
In this month’s ‘Premier Christianity’, Bible scholar David Instone-Brewer presents details to the Christmas story I’ve never considered before:
- Bethlehem then was a small village. There were no jostling crowds returning because of the census. That’s one bit I’ve miss-told.
- The word ‘kataluma’ translated as ‘inn’ in my Bible is really a ‘guest room’. So no inn, no innkeeper – Bethlehem was too small. Hmmm…
- Joseph’s had to register in Bethlehem because his parents lived there!
Bringing home his already pregnant fiancée would have brought shame and disgrace to the family. As lack of hospitality would have also been shameful Mary and Joseph were given shelter in the animal shed as a compromise.
Whether this interpretation of the Christmas story is correct or not I don’t know. It does start to answer my questions, and does give me fresh aspects of the Christmas story to muse on, as I continue to search for new truth in the well-known narrative.
And three young innkeepers each saying ‘No room!’ is still a good sermon illustration – even if it didn’t happen.