A Happening in Bethlehem

 By Marcy Barthelette
 At that time, the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.
Luke 2:1 NLT
I’ve lived in small towns, so I feel a bit of a connection to Bethlehem. Life in rural communities is usually laid back, people work hard and sometimes play hard. Everyone knows everyone else’s business and doesn’t hesitate to share. Life just kind of moves along at its own pace until a big event happens. And human events don’t get much bigger or far-reaching than an empire-wide census, such as the one that encompassed Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
We don’t know how many inns are in business at the time but you can well imagine that every family who can spare a room is willing to rent it out for a little profit. Our story, however, has its focus on one particular inn just on the outskirts of town. The keeper and his family, ordinary folk of the day, are working feverishly to provide as many sleeping accommodations as they can possibly squeeze into their dwelling. The kitchen hums with activity, every available woman and girl scurrying to bake bread and prepare sufficient food to satisfy the appetites of hungry travelers. There will be no private accommodations for anyone. It will be shared and shared alike in every sense of the phrase. One long day after another until the census is completed, the chores continue. The innkeeper, his family, and all who work here must be near exhaustion. No one passes up an opportunity to steal a few moments of rest. And so it is on the eve of one especially busy day when our specific household settles for the night.
All returned to their ancestral homes to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home… He took with him Mary… Luke 2:4-5 NLT
While Bethlehem teems with an energy seldom seen here, a man and woman near the edge of town. They have been traveling for some time to reach their destination and she is nearing her time to birth their first child. Yes, Joseph and Mary have put aside their original questions and fears. Now they are just trying to obey the current governmental decree and register in the census. They’re required to travel to Bethlehem because this is the cradle of Joseph’s ancestry. As they approach, they feel an overwhelming weariness from their days in the hot desert climate. All they want is a place to lie down and sleep for the remainder of the night.
Joseph knocks on the door to the inn and no one answers. He knocks again and hears an angry shout from within, “Go away, we have no room!” One look at Mary and he knows he must keep trying. She is exhausted and extremely uncomfortable traveling at this late stage of her pregnancy. Another knock and this time Joseph hears footsteps inside. The door opens a crack and the innkeeper shows no mercy. “What’s wrong with you, man? Didn’t you hear that we have no room? Now you’ve probably wakened my whole family and most of our guests. Be gone with you! Go!”
But Joseph gestures toward Mary and replies, “Please, sir, we only ask for a small space to lie down. Can’t you see my wife is very advanced in her pregnancy? She needs to rest before this night is over.”
The innkeeper scratches his beard and says, “I suppose you could sleep for a few hours with my animals. There is not an empty space anywhere in this inn but the stable is dry and there is hay for bedding. Just follow that path over there and it will lead you straight to the stable…you can’t miss it. Off with you now, so I can get some sleep.”
A few liberties have been taken in this story, but little is actually told in the Bible, so we are left with empty pages and questions. How do you suppose the innkeeper would have reacted had he found members of royalty at his door, looking for a place to sleep as the darkness deepened? What if the strangers had been garbed in silks and jewels, their wealth and importance obvious? Would he have scurried to move his own family to the stable and offer their room to such important people? He was, after all, just the head of a hardworking family trying to make ends meet. This government-required influx of travelers to his town meant his family would enjoy a bit of prosperity for a while and guests of royal lineage would certainly be willing to add generously to his coffers in exchange for special favors. How would he have greeted them?
But instead, he finds a couple of sweaty, dirty peasants, weary from their desert trek. He likely thought a stable was appropriate for such as these. After all, what could they offer in exchange for lodging?
Of course, the innkeeper didn’t know what glorious happening would take place shortly — in his stable, surrounded by his own animals. The kind of royalty that would enter the world that night was unknown to him. But just down the dusty trail a short distance from his door, the stage was set, the lights (of heaven) would soon go up and an incredible story was about to unfold, bigger than any event ever known to man…
And while they were there the time came for her baby to be born. Luke 2:6 NLT

Next week, shepherds hear the news….

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