Mary, Joseph and the Inhospitable Relatives

Traveling at Christmas

Traveling at Christmas takes guts and a good head for making plans, attributes my wife has in abundance.

So we are traveling for Christmas. Driving as a matter of fact. We’ve rented a four wheel drive to take us (my wife, our daughter and her fiance) over the mountains and through the valleys and into snow country, where we will stay at a vacation rental to meet up with our son who is going to be on winter break from school.

We’ve done this trip and know what to expect, but making plans still takes effort, lists, and phone calls – you wouldn’t believe how many phone calls – and then there’s the drive itself. If we leave before sunrise we should pull in before the sun sets again. We hope.

The Hard Road to Inhospitality

Mary and Joseph had to make travel plans, too, although they didn’t have the luxury of checking the weather on line or making airline reservations.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 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, 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. (Luke 2:1-7.)

As Jon Wymer points out in Dear Lord Baby Jesus, the pregnant Mary likely didn’t have to walk the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem but it couldn’t have been a picnic to try to sit comfortably on a camel or donkey for that distance either.

And then, once they arrived, there was no hotel, no vacation rental, no lovely little Bed and Breakfast waiting for them. As Luke puts it so succinctly, “there was no guest room available for them.” So she gave birth in a stable (perhaps a cave, perhaps a shed, perhaps a rough addition to a home), and laid her newborn in a manger.

We read this Christmas story over and over, yet allow cultural sentimentality to rob it of its stark truth.

No one had room for a pregnant woman and her husband.

It’s not just that no one had room, but that no one in Joseph’s family had room. Remember, Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register because Bethlehem was his family’s seat, its central hub, the one place where Joseph might have expected to run into some sort of relation around every corner.

A high estimate of the population of Bethlehem at that time is approximately 1000 people. The little town’s resources were likely taxed to their limits with all the people gathering to register under the foreign emperor’s decree, and probably more than one traveler found there was no spare guest room.

But a pregnant woman? Not one member of Joseph’s extended family could make room for a pregnant woman? And when she went into labor, still no one gave their place for her. She went into labor, delivered a son, and laid him down in a feeding trough.

Because no one in the family made room.

Now how jolly does this time of year seem to you?

Making Room Today

You weren’t there 2000 years ago. Maybe you would have made room for Mary, for Joseph, for Jesus. The point isn’t what you would have done then, though.

The point is what you will do now. Here and now. The opportunity to provide hospitality to Jesus is with you today.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40.)


Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10.)


This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3.)

There is no need to wonder what you would have done 2000 years ago. Those who share your values and those who are so different you cannot understand what they value, the oppressed and the unprotected, your neighbor and the stranger you’ve never met before – these are the ones you can serve here and now.

Hospitality takes many forms. It might be coming alongside a young pregnant woman, it might be rescuing the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor. It might be offering something to eat or offering a word of encouragement. It might be as simple as a drink of water or as involved as changing your life.

Whatever opportunity God gives you, don’t sent it out to the stable. Make room for it.


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5 Responses to Mary, Joseph and the Inhospitable Relatives

  1. Thanks for this post, Tim. This is an in-your-face reminder that Mary and Joseph–contrary to most sweet, sappy Christmas cards–did not pose in a picture-perfect Nativity scene. The verses you give also remind us that we have a responsibility to be hospitable, now.

  2. I hadn’t thought about the fact that Joseph would have relatives there — that they likely weren’t arriving among a sea of total strangers.

    Making room for whatever opportunities God sends our way: that’s a really good way to describe hospitality. Thanks, Tim.

  3. Just Now says:

    Who invented the internet anyway?

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