Well I’m sorry to spoil all those lovely nativity plays but it turns out much of the story we tell is based on fake news. It’s more than likely that Jesus wasn’t born in a stable and there was no inn and no innkeeper telling Mary and Joseph ‘no room!’
A traditional middle eastern house only had one room where both people and animals lived together. They might also have had a small additional room for guests at the back or on the roof. If relatives arrived to stay, even if you had never met them, you were duty bound to offer them hospitality.
So, in all likelihood Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, his own town, and headed straight to the home of some relatives. But the guest room was already full of other visitors who had got there first. The only place left to stay was in the main room of the house with the family and all their animals; and when Jesus was born the most obvious place to lay him was in the manger – an indented hollow in the ground filled with hay.
All this matters because it significantly changes the way we might view Jesus. Our traditions portray his birth as that of an outcast for whom no room could be found and whom we must choose to visit. The truth is that he was welcomed into the heart of a family where he took the place that he would love to have in all our families. As John’s Gospel so beautifully puts it, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
It is no longer possible to listen to this story in the iOS version of the app but you can do so by subscribing to the Turn Then Page podcast in iTunes