**This week, your Hopers are telling the Christmas story, the birth of Christ, from the perspective of those involved. Yes, some creative license will be taken, but only for the sake of painting a “bigger picture.” Before you read with us – meditate on the scripture shared and give yourself a moment to imagine outside of movies and myths … ask the Holy Spirit to give you visage and understanding as to what the coming of this King as a baby in Bethlehem really meant then and really means now.**
“Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 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 [kataluma].”
“‘If she was my daughter, what would I do? what would I do?‘” I didn’t say it out loud, but in the middle of all of this chaos, I had to do something. She couldn’t be older than fifteen, and here she was – in labor! Her husband was too distressed for me to ask many questions, but I detected his Galilean accent and knew their journey must’ve been long – maybe nine or ten days? And December along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem can be a miserable journey. Even if you aren’t attacked by the bears or boars or lions near the forest in the valley – you can easily be robbed. Even if all goes “well” – it’s still wet and freezing.
This week the temperature had been hovering around thirty degrees, it was raining constantly, and my wife and I kept grumbling that Caeser Augustus could’ve picked a nicer time of year to force all of the Roman world to journey back to the towns they were from.
Oh, sorry, here I am rambling on and on without introduction. I’m no one all that important. I have a kataluma in Bethlehem. See, when travelers pass through or end up here, they need somewhere to rest. As they usually travel in a caravan to avoid being attacked by bandits on major trade routes, we have this sort of campground where they can pull in for safety and sleep. My sons and I built a stone wall around the open area, so the tents and and stall slots are surrounded… but what am I going to do with a girl giving birth?!
I guess I could move her up to one of the caves… hmmm, well that’s not ideal either. But, it would be warmer for her and the baby. I hope she doesn’t mind our animals, though her husband does seem desperate. You see, Bethlehem is made up of hills and dotted throughout those hills are limestone caves. During these cold and rainy nights, I have the kids move all of our animals into one of our caves up higher on our property so they can stay warm and dry.
This Joseph, he has family here in Bethlehem, that’s why he had to come – for the census. But it sounds like his family’s home is full – they sent him here since I know one of his uncles. Joseph seems like a decent fellow, one who cares very much for his bride. He keeps telling me that this baby is going to change the world, that his son isn’t really his… for having an adulterous wife he seems quite fond of her and concerned with her safety, and her baby.
But, I don’t know, it could be the lack of sleep and the chaos from having our city filled to the brim… maybe I’m a bit off my rocker, but something does indeed seem … different. This woman seems sweet, she keeps praying in whispers to her God in kind grateful words between contractions… I can tell you that when my wife went into labor she didn’t speak so gently. She and her husband keep giving one another excited looks, even more filled with anticipation than most couples expecting their first baby. It’s as if they know a secret no one else knows. Strange.
Right about now is when I wish I knew a midwife- Joseph’s run all over town trying to find one, but couldn’t, and I have no suggestions. I guess the most I could do is get them to the cave safe and dry and warm. I hope that God of theirs is listening, this is going to be one long night.”
Centuries of playing “telephone” with the story of Jesus’ birth have given us a pretty terrible impression of this innkeeper in Bethlehem; man that we don’t know anything about! In fact, we don’t even know for sure if there was an innkeeper as the Bible doesn’t directly say, but since there was an “inn” it surely wasn’t run by itself, so we can make an educated guess that there was someone in charge.
The thing is though, the greek word for inn – “kataluma” – certainly doesn’t mean “Best Western” or “Radisson”! And so, while films and Sunday School lessons have given us images of a man at the door of a middle-eastern hotel saying “No!” … that probably wasn’t the case at all. “Kataluma” has a few different meanings, and it could’ve referred to a private residence. That would make sense, seeing as how Joseph was returning to his hometown for the census, so naturally would’ve gone to stay with family. However, what doesn’t make sense is that if this was really the case – his family surely would have made space for he and Mary, but we are told there was “no room” in the kataluma. What is most likely the situation is that the word referenced it’s typical meaning – a rest stop for travelers in the outdoors, in the open, with stall slots for their animals.
If the “Innkeeper” saw a woman in the throes of labor, he would surely not make room for her in the rainy campground, but instead take her to a warm dry cave where he himself kept his animals. Not a “stable” as you and I know it, but what was common in Bethlehem.
(Interesting also… the story-telling of our God.
Where did the greatest miracle of all time occur?
In a tomb, in a stone cave meant for the dead, and to keep the dead, our Jesus AROSE.
And where was He born?
Most likely in a cave, meant for lowly animals, our Jesus came for lowly people as one of us.
The same setting for His birth was the same setting as his [not for long] death. Our God is in the business of taking the most mundane or humble and making it miraculous.)
All these years we’ve believed the “Innkeeper” to be someone cold-hearted and uncaring, when in reality, he was someone that cared for this stranger – even though he didn’t know the eternity-shaking miracle that he was a part of.
As I’ve thought and prayed in preparation for this post, it’s dawned on me that I quite often tend to reflect the former … when my life feels full, I don’t have the desire to accommodate anyone – certainly not a stranger, and certainly not someone who might inconvenience me.
But in researching the more-likely reality of the latter, may it convict our hearts (mine included) that in the midst of this full-to-the-brim holiday season, as loud and chaotic as Bethlehem at census-time would’ve been, even if we don’t know what God is up to – may we be “innkeepers” who see a need, see others exactly where they are, and respond in grace… making way in our homes and hearts for God to use us as He works a miracle.