Posted by Dr. Wade Smith on December 16, 2015
One of the traditions of Christmas is traveling to be with family. Growing up an Air Force brat, I learned that no matter where we were stationed, we always found our way “home” for Christmas. Likewise, my wife and I make our way back “home” for Christmas each year, a task that grew increasingly difficult as our family grew from two to six. And, while we continue to “go home” for Christmas, we eagerly await the arrival of our oldest daughter, “coming home” for Christmas from college.
As you read the Christmas story in Luke 2:1-20, you quickly discover that travel and “going home” have been part of Christmas from the beginning. Caesar Augustus decreed that a census be taken, requiring everyone to register in their hometown. Joseph’s family was from Bethlehem, so he and Mary made the 75 mile trip from Nazareth.
When they arrived there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn, presumably because the census had overcrowded the little town and their slow travel due to Mary’s pregnancy meant all rooms were already filled. When Mary gave birth, she laid her baby in a manger, implying she and Joseph were able to find shelter only in some type of barn or stable area.
Why? Where was Joseph’s family? Wasn’t this his hometown? Surely there must have been family somewhere in Bethlehem. The census meant all family would be coming home, including Joseph. Wasn’t anyone watching for his arrival? Didn’t anyone in the family consider saving him a bed and place at the table? It is a missing part of the story that troubles me.
But let’s consider the rest of the story. Joseph and Mary were yet to be married. Her pregnancy would have been the source of great gossip and shame for Joseph’s family. Stories of angels and a miraculous pregnancy would have been met with as much skepticism and incredulity as today. The honorable thing for Joseph to do would have been to put Mary away, not to bring her to Bethlehem. His claim not to be the “father” surely exonerated him from any responsibility. Can’t you just hear the gossips and busybodies?
The above thoughts are speculation, but if true, think what Joseph’s family missed...the birth of the Messiah! They missed shepherds coming in from the fields, finding this baby in a manger, and declaring the wondrous things told them by the angels. They missed all of this because they lacked the grace to offer love and grace to a family member.