Some larger homes in Jesus’ day had an extra room more properly called a guest chamber. This room was not used day to day. It was like the guest room many of us have in our homes. We keep it clean and ready for company, should they come to visit. In Luke’s story of the birth of Christ, the word for this chamber is normally, and inaccurately, translated “inn”. But the Greek word “kataluma” actually refers to a guest chamber in a home. With this insight, here is what Luke really describes as Jesus comes into the world.
Joseph arrives, with a very pregnant Mary, in Bethlehem at the door of the home of a relative. He and Mary are, in the ways of the those days, made warmly and thoroughly welcome, even though they could not have notified anyone about their arrival ahead of time. The holy couple were not the first to arrive, so the guest room is already full. Does this mean they will be turned away?
Even we rather cynical westerners can understand that, when family comes, you make room. In this case there remained space in the living room. The common living area in such a home, back then, would also have included a nook for animals such as sheep or a donkey. The presence of animals in the house meant that a manger, or feedbox, would have been a common feature in this large family living space.
So Mary had help, and Joseph had relatives to pace with as the time came. Jesus was born in a family home, surrounded by his uncles and aunts and cousins. His birth happened right out in the middle of the place where a big family cooks, eats, laughs, plays, argues, and sleeps together. Even the livestock get in on the fun. Mary and Joseph and Jesus were not alone. In fact they could not have been any less alone! This was not a private birth. Jesus came into the world in a warm little sea of humanity, and no doubt when he was delivered everyone smiled and cheered and hugged and cried for joy.
This is the more factual, and also the more true, story of Jesus’ birth. Jesus came into a world where he was welcomed and loved. He arrived in a setting of warm hospitality. When Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem, they came home to have their baby.
Why not, then, believe that THIS is the way the world is, and this is how people really are? There is always room. If there is room for the Son of God, there is room for everyone. If we believe the real Gospel story, we should live it.