This Sunday, the kids in our church will present their annual Christmas program. It will be complete with angels, shepherds, wise men, a bashful Mary and Joseph, and of course the innkeeper. But recently, I read an article by Dr. Tom Phillips, a professor of New Testament and early Christian studies at Point Loma Nazarene University (my alma mater), who has a different idea about what really happened on that night in Bethlehem. (You can read the complete article here.)
Dr. Phillips is part of the group that is working on the new Bible translation called the Common English Bible or CEB. His task was to translate the book of Luke. Knowing the gravity of his assignment, he prayerfully began the research of the original language of the text. When coming to the beloved Christmas story, Dr. Phillips brought his translation to his Sunday school class for their input. The class was shocked to read the proposed translation that said the holy family was forced to sleep in the stable, and Jesus was placed in a manger "because there was no place for them to stay in the main part of the house." (2:7) What? No inn? No mean innkeeper who refused the poor couple? Probably not. When you get real technical and look at the original Greek, the word used for inn (kataluma) is not the word we think of in our language. It does not mean a commercial business where paying travelers stay. The Greek word for that kind of inn is pandochieon. You will find that word used in Luke 10 in the story of the Good Samaritan. Mary and Joseph were traveling back to the city of Joseph's family. Undoubtedly they would have stayed with some distant relative and not a commercial inn. What this passage infers is that the holy family was denied lodging from their own family because Mary was an unwed mother. They were banished to the stable downstairs where the animals were kept.
So what does all this mean to me? Well, it makes the scripture of Christ's rejection even more apparent. Before he was born, "He came to his own people, and even they rejected him." (John 1:11)
The program will go on as usual this Sunday, and the truth of Jesus' birth will be told. But I will be thinking of Jesus' birth in a new light. My compassion for Mary and Joseph has increased. What a blessed burden they bore.
It makes me think of the verse in 1 Corinthians 13:12:
Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror,
but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.
All that I know now is partial and incomplete,
but then I will know everything completely,
just as God now knows me completely.
I can't wait for that day, when the story of our salvation is fully known, and I see my Savior face to face.
Have a very Merry Christmas! I'll be back in the new year! Until then, be sure to keep enjoying the view...