And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
You’ve probably heard this verse countless times before. There’s just one problem. This isn’t what the Bible teaches. The true story of “no place for them in the inn” has gotten choked out by myth. Stories, plays, and movies have dramatized this event for the sake of entertainment, but what most likely happened is very different. Truth is, there was probably no begrudging innkeeper. In fact, there was, most likely, no inn at all. Nowadays families might stay at a hotel, but not in Israel at that time. Back then, family—especially pregnant family members— stayed with family.
Perhaps most importantly, the Greek word most Bibles render as “inn” doesn’t mean what we think in modern English. Tradition has obscured the true meaning here. Instead of “inn,” the word actually means “guest room.” In fact, you’ll find the same exact word used just that way in Luke 22:11 and Mark 14:14.
So, most likely, rather than being turned away from hotels, Joseph found his relatives’ house filled with guests who were there for the census. The couple didn’t face closed doors. They just had to live in the lower level of the house—a place that often housed animals in ancient Israel.
Even though layers of “extras” have been added to the true meaning of Christmas—from innkeepers to Santa Claus—what really happened 2,000 years ago is nothing short of astounding. God came down. Jesus stepped into our world. When He was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus willingly took on flesh, fully aware of how His life would turn out. He knew He’d be in danger from childhood on. He knew He’d be mocked and harassed. He knew He’d be beaten, flogged, and crucified.
Even still, He chose to be born. But why would He? Love. In John 3:16 we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Love makes humans do some pretty amazing things—you’ve probably got your own stories. But God has us all beat. He humbled Himself to become one of us, and then He died on purpose to take away the sin of the world. He died—we live.
As you gaze upon your Christmas tree, shop for presents, and sing along with Christmas carols, remember the real reason we celebrate. 1 Timothy 1:15 puts it well: ”The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”