The Christmas story always bothered me.
It just never made sense. No, not the virgin birth. Not the angels singing to shepherds. Not the star in the sky. Not the wise men.
No, it was the part about there being no room in the inn. It never made sense. Middle Eastern hospitality is legendary. Strangers, travelers, those in need–you can count on the deeply ingrained culture of showing generosity and graciousness to those who need a meal or a warm bed.
ever turn away a pregnant woman–especially a woman who was a distant relative visiting her ancestral home in Bethlehem. Never. It wouldn’t happen.
Enter Ken Bailey and chapter one of Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. The Greek word usually translated as “inn” is better rendered as “guest room” as the NIV does.
Middle Eastern peasant homes were one large room though sometimes a guest room or mother-in-law room was attached. But since there was no room in the guest room, the owners of the house did the only sensible thing–they welcomed Mary and Joseph into the main house.
The main room of the house was typically divided with a smaller ground floor level and a larger level raised a couple feet. Peasants would bring their animals into the lower level of the house at night for two reasons–to keep the animals safe from thieves and to provide warmth for the family sleeping on the upper level when it was cold.
Cut into the floor of the upper level where it meets the lower level was (wait for it) a manger. A place for hay to feed the animals.
Some years ago as I was explaining this to a friend at church, her eyes got huge. “That’s the kind of house I grew up in!” Her family had been missionaries among peasants in Syria. You can still find such homes there today.
If you are looking for a Christmas play that accurately reflects what really happened that night in Bethlehem, Bailey’s Open Hearts in Bethlehem is the perfect option. It transforms a story of “no room in the inn” to one of wondrous welcome and generosity.