When I left off telling the story, Mary and Joseph had traveled the more than seventy miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I could lament about the inconvenient time for Mary. After all, she was nearing the end of her pregnancy. It would not have been an easy trip and she would have needed to travel slowly, but to fulfill biblical prophecy she needed to be in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.
Consider all the details that God arranged for this one monumental moment in history. Look at the sequence of events and how perfectly they aligned. Certainly when all of them are considered, this was not coincidental. Caesar Augustus, if he knew the prophecy at all, would have had no desire to bring it to fruition by requiring the trip to Bethlehem.
By all accounts, Bethlehem was not a large city and would be crowded with the people who were required to go there to register for taxation.
Even if there were relatives in the city to provide shelter, it would not be surprising they would not have enough room for all the relatives who might need shelter. The inns of that day, such as they were, would have been crowded as well by the time Mary and Joseph arrived. Others who could have traveled more swiftly would have gotten the first spots.
What I know is that Luke tells me there was “no room in the inn”, but what was an “inn” in that day? It would be hard for us to envision it if we used the same word for an overnight or many day stay in our day.
What would it have been like for Mary who might already be having signs of early labor to know she and Joseph had no place they could count on?
How would Joseph be feeling as he sought shelter for his wife knowing that she might be ready to deliver the baby at any time? He knew he needed to find a place of safety and shelter. It was up to him, but in his mind he may well have thought, surely God has provision given all He had told them.
Inns of the day were often square erections that were open inside. Travellers could stay there and have room for their animals if they were traveling with them. The rear part of the structures was used as stables. Because the countryside was rocky, sometimes these spaces were a grotto or cave.
Despite the primitive conditions, I am confident Mary and Joseph would have felt great relief when they found a spot near the back of this inn or cave. Even though scripture does not tell us, Mary would possibly have been advancing in labor by the time Joseph gathered hay or straw for her to lie down.
If the inn was full, would there have been any woman, any midwife there to provide help and comfort? Would Joseph be her only help to aid in the delivery and to seek to comfort her as she felt contractions coming faster and harder?
I rest in the assurance that God provided for them even though I do not read how. God had left nothing to chance for this night. Everything would fit together perfectly with the Old Testament prophecy.
I can see Joseph searching for things he thought they might need. They had brought so little with them. When he noticed the manger, he saw a possible bed for the baby. He cleared out all the old hay or straw and searched for fresh bedding for the baby and moved it closer to Mary.
Whether or not anyone else was present, Luke, the physician, tells us that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in the manger Joseph had prepared.
What were swaddling cloths?
Traveling long distances in the Middle East in those days often could result in hardship and trials of many kinds. Resources tell me death was not uncommon on such a trip and if it occurred, the body could not be carried to the journey’s end.
As a result, it was common for travelers to wrap a thin, gauzelike cloth around their waist multiple times so if someone died on the journey others would be able to wrap the body for burial. These cloths were referred to as “swaddling clothes”.
Could it be that Joseph had such cloths wrapped around his waist and as he looked for something to wrap the baby after delivery, this was what was available for him to wrap Jesus?
If so, then Jesus who was born to die for us was wrapped in burial cloths at His birth.