In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 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 2:1-7 NIV)
I have three children and therefore have been through three pregnancies. As my wife got larger and larger when carrying the children she became less and less mobile, by nine months she was fairly static, travelling wasn’t on the agenda and certainly not by foot, but Mary and Joseph didn’t have this luxury.
For some reason I have never looked at the distance between Nazareth and Bethlehem and I was quit shocked to see that is nearly 70 miles! When we had our first child he was quite attached to my wife and didn’t want to come out. They recommended many things to aid the birth from hot curries to long walks…now the long walk was something that Mary and Joseph certainly did. I had a quick look on Google at the journey times between Nazareth and Bethlehem and if you are to walk the journey it will take 34 hours via route 65 and 38 hours via route 458. However, these are modern roads. They would have had the donkey express or the camel highway! Allowing for Mary being pregnant and maybe traveling for 6-8 hours a day, doubling the time for the dodgy roads, you are then looking at least 10 days. You wouldn’t dream of doing it these days…but they didn’t have a choice. 10 days of traveling whilst pregnant in modern times isn’t recommended let alone in the conditions that they were facing. The traditional story has Mary traveling on a donkey, though this is possible, we don’t know as the biblical account doesn’t mention it.
Eventually they would have arrived in Bethlehem, the story just says that there is no room at the inn. The word for inn or guest room is the word katalyma, this can mean dining room or guest room or inn. It is often used in the context of a family home. In biblical times, many homes had an upper room for family living and lower rooms for the animals. It is likely that Mary and Joseph stayed with relatives but because of the census the relatives house was full so they had to stay with the animals which were downstairs, and so when Mary gave birth she placed Jesus in the manger, with an audience of four legged onlookers.
You have to think about it to believe it. We tell the story like a fairy tale, but this actually happened. She travelled the 70 miles, didn’t have a great place to stay, gives birth to the high king of heaven and then placed him in a manger. I presume everyone knows what a manger is but for those who don’t, it is a trough in which hay would be paced for the animals to eat from. Most animals I know are quite inquisitive, they would have been watching the birth with nervous intrigue. As Mary placed Jesus in the manger it would have drawn their interest. They would have tentatively come near to sniff what was there. I find it quite overwhelming to think about the humility of our Lord and the circumstances into which he was born. He didn’t come with blazing lights and a royal procession, he wasn’t protected by guards (certainly not human ones, though I believe there would have been angels watching over him). He came to a young Jewish girl who was ready to say yes to God.