The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.’

Micah 5:2

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 2:4–7



We read a lot of assumptions into the Nativity story. Want to know one of the most ingrained ones? I apologise in advance; this may well burst a plethora of nostalgic bubbles for you. There is no mention in the biblical accounts of an inn keeper, an inn, a donkey, or (you ready for this one?) a stable.

I know. It hurts me too. It’s like the biblical version of finding out Santa isn’t real.

We read that there was no ‘guest room’ available, and our modern minds are picturing Mary and Joseph knocking on the doors of the independent B&Bs and the local Premier Inn to no avail. Ancient readers, however, would have read those words and immediately assumed that the Bethlehem side of Joseph’s family had no spare rooms to squeeze them into.

Either way: disaster, right?

We read that Mary popped Jesus in a manger and assume, ‘Aha, a stable’. Ancient readers will have read those words and thought, ‘Aha, the ground floor of the house where the animals are brought in at night’. Genius.

Whatever the logistics were, wherever the facts end and speculation begins, there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear from this little detail: things weren’t going to plan.

I bet when Micah gave his famous prophecy about Bethlehem, he didn’t predict that it would be a close call, that it would require sacrifice, compromise, and the smell of animal poo.

How many times in your life have things not gone to plan, and you’ve assumed you’d failed? How many times have you felt like what you had to offer simply wasn’t enough? How many times have you been discouraged because something hasn’t worked out in an ideal manner?

And here’s my main question for today: how many times have you assumed God was sitting those moments out? Waiting for you to get back up to standard before he’d be interested in using you again?

We may not know who was in the room when Jesus was born, what it looked like, or how it came about. But let me tell you what we do know – it was enough.

Our Saviour arrived in chaos. And guess what, he’s still showing up in yours. So, make space this week, imperfect space. He’s very at home in our realness.

Belle Tindall
Belle works as a reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness

The world doesn’t need us to pretend that we always have everything all figured out. What are some practical ways that we can invite people around us into our real and imperfect lives, pointing them to our Saviour? Join the conversation in the comments below.


Gritty Wonder | The Shepherds (4/4)


  1. No mention of an inn ?
    What about Luke 2:7 ?

    By Mr Daniel Sutherland  -  12 Dec 2022
    • The Greek word does not specifically mean “inn”.

      By Pauline Harris  -  12 Dec 2022
  2. Thank you so much for this, it really spoke to me this Monday morning. (I did know about Mary and Joseph staying with relatives and having to stay with the animals on the ground floor of the house, but it’s nice to be reminded of the correct interpretation of information in the gospel nativity story!)

    By Eleanor Toye Scott  -  12 Dec 2022
  3. Can I ask you where I can read in the Gospel where it says it was with relatives that Mary gave birth in the bottom of their house where the animals where kept?

    By [email protected]  -  12 Dec 2022
    • Just over a decade ago, Kenneth Bailey wrote a book called Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes, putting the life of Jesus into its historical and cultural setting. Chapter one focuses on Luke 2:1-20 in particular, and unpacks in convincing detail why the inn, the stable, and other elements of the Nativity we take for granted actually come from later interpretation, rather than the original biblical text itself. I’d recommend a read if you’d like to find out more.

      Matt Jolley
      By Matt Jolley Research & Implementation Manager

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