Did Joseph inquire with an innkeeper about a place to stay? “Is it a Christmas Tradition or Truth?”
Let me ask you: How many after reading that phrase “there was no room for them in the inn…” (Luke 2:7) have a mental picture of a mean innkeeper who refused to provide a room for a young couple looking for a safe place to give birth? That is a very popular conception.
But, let’s be clear there is NO actual mention of an innkeeper in Luke’s text. Would there have been an innkeeper? Maybe. Would he have been a cold-hearted man who told the holy couple to go away? Now we are adding more to the story than is there for sure!
If Mary and Joseph tried to stay at a public "inn" we have to recognize that in first century Palestine, this was not like our lodging of today. It was probably a caravan-stopping point --- a place (it might of even been just a large room) where groups of people huddled together to stay while on a journey like this.
If Mary and Joseph tried to stay at a public "inn," then Luke is telling us that when they arrived, this room was already bursting at the seam. Furthermore, since there would have been absolutely no privacy for Mary and Joseph in such a public guest room, they may have even been offered an alternative location to help them. Rather than an act of disregard by the "inn-keeper," this might have been more of an act of kindness.
So, what exactly was this alternative location where Jesus was born? Ancient tradition portrays it NOT as a wooden stable (like so many Nativity sets would lead us to believe), but as a rocky cave?
Tradition says that Jesus' birth place was in cave over which the Basilica of the Nativity was built in Bethlehem. The Roman Emperor Constantine built a Basilica over this cave in the 4th Century at the request of his mother, Helena. It was destroyed and the present basilica was built by Emperor Justinian in 530 AD. (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.)
In fact, two early sources (the church Fathers- Justin Martyr and Origen) both claim it that is was a cave outside of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. The Church Father Justin Martyr writing in about 150 A.D. says, “But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger.” (http://www.cogwriter.com/jesus-born-in-a-cave.htm)
But, while this is a very early tradition, it is NOT the only explanation for the facts that Luke lays out for us. There may be another alternative location for the birth of Jesus. And the key to understanding what Luke might be saying is to picture the layout of a typical first century home. (see picture below)
Could an understanding of the architecture of the the typical first-century home provide the "key" to understanding Luke's statement that there was "no room for them in the inn..." (Luke 2:7c- KJV)? I was alerted to this possibility by a recent seminar by Jim Showers, Executive Director of FOI. He writes: “Since Joseph and Mary had returned to their hometown of Bethlehem for a census they likely would have stayed with relatives. The Greek word translated for “inn” appears only THREE times in the NT (Luke 2:7; 22:11; Mark 14:14). The other two uses both refer to the last supper. Jesus told Peter and John to go and prepare the 'upper room' or 'guest chamber' for the Passover meal. In first century Israel, a typical home in town was built adjacent to other homes. None had a stable. Homes were often two-story structures. The first floor was used for storage, cooking, and keeping animals after dark. The upper floor was a large, single room, used for family gatherings and sleeping. Perhaps all Luke is telling us is that Jesus was born on the first floor and laid in a manger used to feed the animals kept on the floor. Why? Because the upper room was filled with guests, and there was no room for them. But Luke was also telling us that when Jesus was born, it wasn’t His appointed time to be in the upper room. That event would wait until He had completed all His Father sent him to do prior to His crucifixion. At the appropriate time, Jesus sent two trusted disciples to prepare the upper room so He could celebrate Passover, establish the Lord’s Supper, and declare that He will someday return to establish His kingdom here on earth.” (Friends of Israel Letter, December 2013)
This is certainly another possibility for the location of the birth of the Savior. Should we get rid of our time-trusted Nativity sets? Of course not! Is it wrong to picture Mary and Joseph staying in a wood stable or cave? Not really. But, perhaps we should acknowledge that our typical nativity set might contain a little more TRADITION than full-blown TRUTH.
What matters most is not what kind of dwelling that housed the infant Jesus. What matters most is that He humbled Himself and took on human flesh to dwell among us! Isn't that the real miracle and mystery of Christmas?
"O Christmas Tree!" You might be surprised at the history of the Christmas tree.
From "O Christmas Tree: The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree," Dr. Richard P. Bucher's: (http://www.orlutheran.com/html/chrtree.htm)
"...the Christmas tree originated in Germany. Indeed, the earliest record of an evergreen tree being used and decorated (but without lights) for Christmas is 1521 in the German region of Alsace.7 Another useful description has been found among the notes of an unknown resident of Strasbourg in 1605, who writes that "At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors at Strasburg and hang thereon roses cut of many- coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets . . ."
"...But from where did Christians get the idea of the Christmas tree? Was it a new idea or was there a historical custom upon which they were building?"
"the evidence just does not exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christmas as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a direct descendent of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the evidence that we have points in another direction. The Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages.
From the eleventh century, religious plays called "mystery plays" became quite popular throughout Europe. These plays were performed outdoors and in churches. One of the most prevalent of these plays was the "Paradise play." The play depicted the story of the creation of Adam and Eve, their sin, and their banishment from Paradise. The play would end with the promise of the coming Savior and His Incarnation (cf. Gen. 3:15). The Paradise play was simple by today's standards. The only prop on stage was the "Paradise tree," a fir tree adorned with apples. From this tree, at the appropriate time in the play, Eve would take the fruit, eat it, and give it to Adam.
...The people had grown so accustomed to the Paradise tree, however, that they began putting their own Paradise tree up in their homes on Dec. 24. They did so on Dec. 24 because this was the feast day of Adam and Eve (at least in the Eastern Church). The Paradise tree, as it had in the Paradise plays, symbolized both a tree of sin and a tree of life. For this reason, the people would decorate these trees with apples (representing the fruit of sin) and homemade wafers (like communion wafers which represented the fruit of life). Later, candy and sweets were added."