In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
Luke 2:1-6 (NIV)
“Oh,” Mary moaned softly.
Joseph anxiously turned to his wife, trailing along behind him on the back of their donkey. Her face was drawn, her eyes weary from four long days of travel.
“Do you want to walk for a while?” he asked her.
“Yes, thank you.”
Joseph held the donkey with one hand while he helped Mary to the ground with the other. Other members of their caravan of extended family plodded steadily past, anxious to make it through the gates of Bethlehem before nightfall.
“We are almost there,” he said reassuringly.
Mary nodded, smiling weakly.
Within the hour, the walls of Bethlehem appeared as a long line severing the horizon. The promise of a meal and sleeping mat in the comfort of a relative’s home cheered them and they quickened their pace.
Mary and Joseph fell into the silent rhythm of the trail, measuring the last mile of the journey one weary step at a time. At last, as the setting sun bathed Bethlehem in soft golden light, the journey was completed. In the fulfillment of thousands of years of prophecy, the long-awaited Messiah was carried through the gates of Bethlehem, sheltered in the womb of a virgin.
Steadily, Joseph led Mary through the familiar streets to the place called home to his aunts, uncles, and cousins. When he and Mary stepped into the courtyard of the family compound, relatives rushed to meet them, excitedly wrapping Joseph in their arms. One of the children took the donkey’s rope and led it to a trough of water. Mary momentarily forgot her fatigue as Joseph’s aunts joyfully caressed her burgeoning abdomen, each making their own predictions of how much longer it would be until the baby arrived.
Then, the wizened old matriarch of the family stepped forward. She placed one gentle hand on each side of Mary’s face and searched her eyes.
“Ah, daughter,” she said, sighing. “You are weary. Come, you need rest.” Then she placed an arthritic hand on Mary’s stomach and nodded solemnly. “It won’t be long now, my child.”
Mary glanced back over her shoulder to Joseph as she was led to the comfort of a good meal and a soft sleeping mat. She found him smiling at her, the relief evident on his face. She was in good hands.
That night after the evening meal, Mary and Joseph’s sleeping mats were joined with the others that lined the main living room of a relative’s home since the kataluma*, the guest room of the home, was full. Immediately, Mary fell into an exhausted sleep. Joseph, though weary, lay awake lost in dark thoughts of the census report. It represented so much to Israel, little of it comforting. What kind of world would Jesus grow up in? How would the brutal rule of Rome mark His life?
Joseph sighed in resignation. There was so little within his control. But for tonight, Mary and the baby were safe. His wife would not give birth on the side of the road but in the care of his family. Kind and experienced women would help the baby into the world.
And with that comforting assurance, Joseph finally surrendered to sleep.
*Kataluma has been inaccurately translated as “inn” in some translations of the Bible. A kataluma was the traditional guest room of a home in first-century Palestine. Since everyone was returning to their ancestral homes, this room was understandably full when Mary and Joseph arrived at his family’s home in Bethlehem. More recent translations of the Bible (see the 2011 New International Version) have corrected this error.
As written by Sherri Gragg in Advent: The Story of Christmas. Connect with Sherri on Instagram and her website.
Advent: The Story of Christmas traces God’s ribbon of redemption – from Eden to Jerusalem – through thirty-one biblical stories. Sherri Gragg’s unique storytelling, infused with cultural accuracy and color, has been described as “Bible stories for adults.”
Her narrative style offers a fresh perspective on the lives of God’s people, both ancient and modern. Advent: The Story of Christmas will enrich personal devotional time during the seasons of Advent and Christmas.
Today marks the third Sunday in the season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Join us here at (in)courage each Sunday during these weeks as we share excerpts from this beautiful book, learn more about Jesus, and count down to Christmas, together.
Leave a Comment
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Mary I’d like to say this about her. She was God choose to have the king of the world. Who was born in humbal stable. God chose that his son would be born in humbal stable. Even though God son went on to king of the world. So as to teach us that you don’t need any were fancy to born. That he was coming down to the level to show the world we can be born any where. You don’t need any where fancy. As if God had wanted he could have choose somewhere fancy for the king of world to be born. Mary must have been so proud to choosen to mother of the king of the world. We can read the story of Mary being choosen and wondering how can this be when I am virgin. Joseph did not want to marry her because he didn’t want to disgrace Mary. He wanted to do the right thing. God told Joseph to take Mary as his wife. As the baby she is carrying is convinced by the Holy Spirit. Joseph did as Lord told him and took Mary to be his wife. They traveled to home of Bethlehem for the baby who became king of world called Jesus to be born. When we read all about in our Bibles it one of the most lovely stories. It is so lovely we bring it to life this time of year. As God gave us the best gift/present of all that was his son Jesus coming into the world to show us that are saved how to live as he want us too. No better gift/present could we give people than tell them about Jesus. Especially if not saved. I say Amen to that. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
Hilary VanUtt says
An interesting diversion from the Word of God, but let the Word speak for itself, there is enough reinterpretation and augmenting of scripture as it is. Let the pure word of the Lord from the inspired word of God bring light and illumination to all people’s hearts
Becky Keife says
Hillary, we’ve been traveling through an advent series from a book written by Sherri Gragg who uses historical and cultural research to bring Bible stories to life. You’re absolutely right this this kind of story is not a replacement for Scripture! But I’m grateful for the way writers like Sherri can use their gifts to help us consider different aspects of the biblical narrative.
I’m super confused by this story. I thought it was going to say, “ Psych, this is not really how it happened…” but it just ended. Where did this version come from? It’s not in the Bible.
Becky Keife says
Sorry this was confusing for you. Based on the author’s historical and cultural research, she’s offering an alternative view to the way the story of Christ’s birth has classically been interpreted. I’m grateful that regardless of the specific details, we can all meditate on the truth that God chose to deliver His Son to humanity through the most miraculous and humble means!
This is definitely not the story I grew up with. I think I’ll stick with the version I’ve read in the Bible. It’s not important maybe, but it’s what feels real to me. No disrespect meant for this author.
Becky Keife says
Thanks for being here at (in)courage. Based on the author’s historical and cultural research, she’s offering an alternative view to the way the story of Christ’s birth has classically been interpreted. I’m grateful that regardless of the specific details, we can all meditate on the truth that God chose to deliver His Son to humanity through the most miraculous and humble means!
I agree with the comments already written.
Please, let us stick to God’s version of His Son’s birth. The Truth of God’s Word.
Becky Keife says
Carolyn, I appreciate your comment. We’ve been traveling through an advent series from a book written by Sherri Gragg who uses historical and cultural research to bring Bible stories to life. This this kind of storytelling is certainly not a replacement for Scripture, but I’m grateful for the way writers like Sherri can use their gifts to help us consider different aspects of the biblical narrative.
The Word clearly states Mary laid Jesus in a manger (feeding trough). I highly doubt they kept feeding troughs in the house. The Word is sacred and this post is offensive to those who cherish it.
Becky Keife says
Renee, I once heard a Christmas sermon about the typical family home structure in 1st Century Judea. The preacher described a large open area in the center of the home where an overflow of travelers would be welcomed in and even animals might stay on especially cold nights. Hearing this floored me too and definitely challenged the classically told version of Christ’s birth story. However the details of that miraculous night played out, I’m forever grateful for the gift of Jesus and the seasonal call to remember the humble miracle of His birth.
Beth Williams says
Interesting interpretation. The NIV states that there was no guest room available. Sure they may have been with family, but no room inside. So she laid Jesus in a manger or feeding trough. I never even thought that Joseph would have seen his family & tried to stay with them. Great story.
I love this narrative. It brings it alive. Unlike some of the posts, I don’t think it detracts from the traditional view. Thank you, Sherri, for painting such a beautiful picture of a key moment in history.
This story, while beautifully told, inflects a great deal of poetic or literary license. I can see a lot of the comments are revealing a lot of push-back. I feel that a statement in the beginning stating that this story was told from an alternate perspective from the writer would have allowed for the reader to be more objective. I have enjoyed the excerpts from Sherri’s book and look forward to reading the next one. Sherri has the ability to transport the reader to another time in place which is a great gift.
Becky Keife says
That’s a good suggestion, Christine. Thank you.