We can all describe the classic nativity scene. A baby laying in a manger wrapped in a blanket in a barn surrounded by his parents and animals and shepherds. The barn is dark and dingy, the floor covered with straw and mud. That is a good image but I don’t think it is the real picture.
“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
The text notes there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. The Greek term for inn is kataluma, which translates to guest room or caravansary; which means a place of lodging for traveling strangers. Only two places in the New Testament is the Greek word kataluma used – here in this passage and in the Last Supper text (Luke 22:11, and parallel passage Mark 14:14).
What is a manger? A manger is a feeding trough for animals. So you find feeding troughs in the barn, right? In ancient Middle East cultures animals were not kept in a barn or left outside. The family animals were always kept inside the house, usually in a lower level from the main floor. This helped to protect them from theft, disease, weather.
So what does all this mean? I think Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem only to find Joseph’s ancestral home full of people. They ended up in the lower level of the house and laid baby Jesus in the feeding trough because there was no room upstairs in the guest rooms. So Jesus was not born in a barn or a stable; crowded as it may have been Jesus was in fact born in a house, quite possibly the house Joseph grew up in, or at a minimum one of a relative. He began his life in a “lower room” of a kataluma and he ended his earthly ministry in the “upper room” of a kataluma. Coincidence?
I think a very powerful picture is painted. One of the Messiah King being born in a way that all could have access to Him. If He had been born in a castle or temple only the wealthy, the noble, or the religious could have access to Him. Instead this Savior, born of humble parents in a humble and ordinary setting, offered access to all. He does the same thing today – no matter our circumstances our Savior is willing to enter into our “house” and be born in us.
New Bern, North Carolina