“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luk 2.7, NIV 2010)
Kenneth Bailey argued on his book, Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, that the more traditional reading of Luk 2.7 is perhaps incorrect (pp. 25-37). It says that Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room available for them in the inn (NIV 1984). The popular images of Joseph and Mary going around frantically to find a place to stay immediately populate our mind. Bailey argued that the word katalyma is perhaps better rendered as “guest room” in a typical Palestinian village home, which can be seen below.
The entrance door is located on the lower level, which serves as an entrance for both the people and the animals. The animals were kept in the house every night to provide warmth and prevent theft. So, the case would be Joseph and Mary wanted to stay in, probably, a relative’s house, but unfortunately the guest room had been occupied. Nevertheless, they were still offered a place; not perfect, of course, but it highlights the hospitality of their host rather than the more traditional image of Joseph and Mary being shunned everywhere. Middle Eastern people are well known for this tradition, as shown by the story of Abraham welcoming his three guests in Genesis 18.
Thus, the story then compels us to imitate the generous and open arms of this family who welcomed the Holy Family. They have welcomed Joseph, Mary, and Jesus; we are, too, called to welcome them in this night of Nativity. Merry Christmas.