No Room in the Inn




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 can be hard for me to envision it if I use the same word for an overnight or many day stay in this 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 to stay that 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. Travelers could stay there and have room for their animals if they were traveling with them. The rear part of the structures was used as a stable. 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.


21 thoughts on “No Room in the Inn

  1. This is a very interesting insight into the story of the birth of Jesus. I confess I’d never given much thought on all the details before,but they make total sense.
    Thank you for sharing at The Really Crafty Link Party this week, and happy holidays!

    1. I don’t think any of us really do think much about it when we read it or hear it. It is familiar and we accept it without making the truth of what it would have been like come alive in our hearts. When I pause in reading to allow that to happen, it becomes so much richer.🎄

  2. Thanks for all the great background info! You got me really imagining Mary and Joseph on that night. Perhaps God gave them a supernatural dose of peace while they tried to figure out all the logistics under so much pressure. But just now it occurred to me they may have been nervous and cranky, as most of us would. I like thinking of Mary as a real woman with real emotions, dependent on a real, compassionate God. You helped me with that!.

    1. It’s fascinating to me to slow down my reading of these familiar passages and discover the possible details based on what we know about culture and to consider the real life pieces of it. It has enriched my reading of the passages I love so much this time of year. Merry Christmas!!🎄

  3. Such a blessed retelling of the story of our Savior’s birth. It’s good sometimes to wonder what it must have been like for them. It gives us more insight into how they might have felt. Thanks for sharing this, Pam. Blessings to you! I’m your neighbor at #TeaAndWord.

  4. wow – great insight – to be wrapped in graveclothes from the beginning. And of course, God left nothing to chance – but what a troubling night as they wondered how He would provide. A good lesson for us all!

  5. That’s interesting about the cloth wrapped around their waists, I’ve never heard that one before. Do you happen to remember the source, I’d like to learn more! I’ve often wondered if Mary would have preferred a stable to an crowded inn, simply for a little privacy! Sleeping near animals certainly wasn’t anything strange in their day, as weird as it seems to us!

    1. Hi Katrina! I do not specifically recall the source. I do most of my research via Logos software that houses hundreds of resources and I wrote this post originally in 2015 and so do not have the exact source to give you.

      I agree about not being unusual to sleep with the animals.😊

  6. Pam,

    You did a fantastic job pulling me into that Silent Night more than 2000 years ago when Jesus arrived. I worried about DH hitting the potholes on the way to the hospital with our first born which is only 15 minutes away. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Mary being full term traveling hundreds of miles on the back of a donkey. Even if one isn’t pregnant that would be a miserable ride, so you know it’s a million times harder for the Savior’s mother. And, then poor Joseph…I know he had to feel anxious and worried for his wife no doubt as you pointed out showing signs of labor. All these things, we don’t usually think of when we read the story of Christmas from the Bible. It’s not until you really think about it that you go, “WOW!” Rejoicing that Jesus is the reason for the season. Have a very merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks so much, Cathy! The series I am in the midst of is meant to help us all consider the story a bit more closely and personally than we often do as we read the so very familiar scripture passages. So glad you were blessed. Tomorrow’s post will look at the shepherds….stop by if you get a chance. Merry Christmas!🎄

  7. Repetition has made us immune to the details and the drama of Mary and Joseph’s situation. Thank you, Pam, for plunking us down in the middle of their dire situation which led to so much good for us!

    1. I love learning something new every day! So glad this post gave you something new today! Have a blessed Christmas!🎄

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