My youngest son participated in a Christmas play recently. These school nativity plays abounded the past few days. In once such play, the two main child actors are dressed up as Joseph and Mary. They cross the stage on their way to the inn at Bethlehem. Meanwhile, farther back is a boy in a shepherd's costume on his mobile phone.
He is calling the inn desperately trying to make a reservation.
Luke's account of the birth of Jesus (Lk 2:1-20), narrates that Mary "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn". Various reasons have been proposed as to why Joseph and Mary ended up in an apparent stable, which was certainly far from being an appropriate accommodation for a mother about to give birth. The situation was that the governor Quirinus issued a decree for an empire-wide census, and Joseph had to register in his hometown. Naturally as a consequence, there could be a dearth of accommodations in Bethlehem due to the heavy influx of registrants. Joseph and Mary were obviously too late to secure their accommodations ahead of the rest. The straight distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles - a tough call for a woman heavy with child, riding a donkey, with her husband patiently walking beside her. But then again, Bethlehem was Joseph's birthplace, and presumably he was supposed to have many relatives in the area that could strive by any means possible to provide decent accommodation for a relative with a pregnant wife about to give birth. Surely, an expectant mother should have been given priority accommodation over the rest. However, much as the popular rendition suggests, there is no biblical record of an innkeeper actually turning down the couple. At any rate, assuming Bethlehem was filled with others who needed to be counted for a census, guest rooms in homes would have had multiple people in them. Not a good place for childbirth, adding the need for privacy and isolation according to Jewish customs. We cannot dismiss the customs of the times, and we have to understand that childbirth rituals would have rendered any vicinity "unclean", and would have displaced a multitude of residents at any inn for quite a time. Perhaps the stable, usually located in the inner or lower area instead of the upper room, was a more suitable compromise after all.
Reasoned guesses and plausible speculations aside, we can be sure of certain things. Jesus our King came as a Messiah stripped of the trappings of pageantry, power and riches. He was laid in a manger, amidst the most humble of surroundings. Our God is revealed in ordinary and bare circumstances -- because He came to serve and not be served
God is with us.