She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:7 (NIV 2011)
It’s not the traditional picture, but it must surely be the correct one (“no guest room available” instead of “no room … in the inn” as in the older 1984 NIV rendering).
Baby Jesus was not rejected by an inn-keeper (although this will doubtless be restated again in some Christmas sermon somewhere). Baby Jesus was born in the living room of a humble, ordinary family home.
Let us consider these points:
- If Luke the gospel writer had wished to refer to an inn or ancient hotel, then he would have used the normal Greek word for “inn” which he uses in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34-35). But here in the Christmas story, he uses a completely different word.
- The Greek word used in Luke 2:7 is found in only two other verses in the whole Bible, and in both those verses, the word does not, and cannot, mean an “inn” or “hotel”. (See Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11 where even the older translations correctly render it as “guest room”.)
So Luke 2:7 does not describe an ancient inn-keeper turning away Mary who was about to give birth to baby Jesus. The verse tells us that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were welcomed into an ordinary, humble home that either did not have a separate guest room, or if it did, was unavailable.
Why then was the baby Jesus put into a manger, a feeding trough for animals? Most animals were left outside in the open fields at night, but ordinary folk would bring their most precious animals into the front portion of their homes at night, not unlike the way many today let their precious dogs and cats sleep in the living room rather than put them outside in a dog-house. Only the very rich had a separate building or stable for prized animals. This is why most first century homes in Palestine had a manger in the living area of the ordinary home. A manger would actually have been a reasonable spot to place a baby. It was shaped like a cot, and when laid with fresh hay would keep a baby warm and comfortable.
Placing baby Jesus into a manger was not a consequence of some heartless rejection by an inn-keeper. Jesus was welcomed into the living room of an ordinary person’s home.
Will we welcome him into ours?
We would never reject or send a baby out into a cold and smelly stable. But the Christmas story asks if we will welcome the Christ Child into the very midst of our homes. Ask any family and they will say a baby at home changes and re-arranges many things in your life—your sleep patterns, your free time, and your finances!
Baby Jesus will do no less if you welcome him into the living room of your life. May we all experience the joy of the Christ Child in our homes this Christmas and beyond.
Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020.
He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012-2020.