Innkeeper, 11 December 2016

Series: First Christmas
Matthew 1:18-25

Series Big Idea:
Most know the Christmas story, but what did the individual characters experience?

Big Idea: Advent is about making room for Jesus.


You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Or do you? Do you?

Today we’re talking about space. I don’t mean Mars and Jupiter. I mean room, capacity. It’s been said no matter how much space you have, you always fill it.

This is true of memory on your cell phone or computer.
It’s true of your closet.
It’s true of your garage.
It’s true of your calendar.
It’s true of your heart.

My name is Kirk and during this season of Advent—this season of waiting—we are looking at the First Christmas through the eyes of various characters in the story. We’ve looked at the Wise Men and Elizabeth. Today we turn to the Innkeeper.

Before we discuss the innkeeper, we need to set a few things straight. Our understanding of Christmas has been plagued by many myths.

For example, we noted two weeks ago how we don’t know how many magi visited Jesus. Maybe three. Maybe twelve. We have no idea. The Bible never says anything about them being kings. Even though they came with our nativity scene, they likely arrived on the scene a year or two after Jesus was born.

Now about the inn. As a kid watching Christmas pageants I was led to believe Mary and Joseph journeyed on a donkey to an ancient version of a Holiday Inn, all of the rooms were booked, and they hung out in a nearby barn filled with hay, animals, and a wooden manger where Jesus laid comfortably…no crying he made (“Away in a Manger”).

Actually, there was no space (room) in the "upper room" of a private house because other family members had arrived there first. This was not a motel or public dwelling. Look at the text of Luke chapter two:

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. (Luke 2:4)

You may recall Caesar Augustus called for a census. In our nation, we have a census every ten years, a form every citizen is required to complete in order to know about the people in our country.

Two thousand years ago they didn’t have the Internet, FedEx, or even the Post Office to deliver mail, so people had to travel to their own register. Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem. He was a descendant of King David, and David was born in Bethlehem.

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 2:5-7)

In case you were wondering, the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles as the crow flies. Of course Mary and Joseph were not crows, so they probably walked more than 90 miles—likely four or five days on foot. Maybe they had a donkey…maybe not. There’s no donkey mentioned in the biblical account.

What’s the longest you’ve ever walked in a day? How many steps, FitBit owners?!

Moms, can you imagine walking to The Palace of Auburn Hills, north of Detroit…nine months pregnant?

One of the challenges with the Christmas story is it’s too familiar. We’ve sanitized its harsh realities into cute figurines we put near the fireplace or kids dressed in bathrobes performing Christmas pageants.

The “holy night when Christ was born” was not the only night of the journey. It simply represented what was likely their first night in Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthday. What did they do the other days?

Good Jews were expected to offer hospitality to travelers. It was common for people to have a guest room in their home for such occasions. Animals would live on the ground level and people would live upstairs. Perhaps Joseph and Mary camped during their journey. They may have traveled with others in a group for safety from lions, bears, or bandits. This was not an uncommon journey. In fact, later in Luke chapter two we are told

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. (Luke 2:41)

But let’s return to our text.

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 2:6-7)

She gave birth to her firstborn. There would be other children.

There was no guest room available for them. Most ancient Jewish homes had a common area on the main level, including a manger where animals ate and slept at night, and an upper room where everyone slept. The upstairs was full. It’s possible there was a separate barn, but this would often be attached to the house directly. They were unable to find private quarters for the birth since no guest room was available in a home. Tradition says Jesus was actually born not in a barn, but rather in a cave nearby.

Here’s a photo of the traditional place in Bethlehem where Jesus may have been born. Heather took this last month when she was in Israel. It hardly looks like our nativity set!

We assume there was an innkeeper…more accurately a homeowner—likely a relative— who had no room in his guest room for Joseph and Mary. At least they found shelter in a cave.

Sometimes the innkeeper gets a bad rap, but imagine you have a packed house and a friend calls last-minute and asks to crash on your couch. What do you do? If there’s no room, maybe you tell them they can set up your camping tent in the backyard!

Then again, if you knew how significant these travelers were, you would’ve done anything for them! Hindsight is 20/20, right?

If I had known the iPhone would change the world, I would’ve bought Apple stocks when everyone was saying they were headed toward bankruptcy.

If I had known he was really that drunk I would have taken his keys.

If I had known those jalapenos were that hot, I wouldn’t have ordered that burrito!

If I had known she was carrying the Christ child, I would have given them my own bed.

Instead, Joseph and Mary slept on the ground floor with the animals, under the sleeping quarters of their relatives, under the upper room. The Greek word here (
kataluma) is the same as the place where Jesus celebrated Passover and had his Last Supper with his disciples before he was crucified.

So why do we think there was a stable, a barn, or even a cave? The only hint of such a thing is that Jesus was born in a
manger, a food trough for animals. We often depict mangers as wooden beds with hay, but ancient mangers were probably made with something like concrete. In my research, I discovered,

“Guest rooms were typically in the front of houses and the animal shelters were in the back of the house or the lower level (in a cave). In the family shelter, the family animals were fed and protected at night from the cold, thieves, and predators. So Joseph and Mary were lodged on the lower level or in the back of the house—the animal shelter. Most likely, the animals were removed while the couple lodged there. (There is no mention of animals in Luke’s or Matthew’s account. St. Francis is credited with building the first manger scene complete with live animals.)”

So What?

Advent is about making room for Jesus.

Did Joseph’s relative make room in his house for Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. No. Space was made below in the area animals would typically spend the night. They received the leftovers rather than the finest hospitality.

What about you? Are you making room for Jesus?
Some people ignore God 167 hours a week and think an hour on Sunday will be sufficient.

Some people spend all of their money—and then some—on stuff for themselves and feel good if they drop a ten or twenty in the offering plate.

Some people like the parts of the Bible which talk about blessings and rewards but make no room for the challenging teachings of surrender and sacrifice.

Some people are fans of Jesus, but they’re not truly followers.

Let me get very practical. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We often call church buildings “houses of God,” but really we are the houses, the places where God dwells. Have you allowed God into all of your house?

What about the study or library of your house? That’s where you think. Do your thoughts bring glory to God?

The living room is where we hang out with friends. Is there room in your relationships for God, or do you keep Him out of your friendships?

The dining room is where we feed our desires. Is there room for God in the things you consume?

The bedroom is where intimacy is experienced. Have you surrendered your sexuality to God or is he locked out?

The rec room is where we watch movies, listen to music, read books, and play games. Have you made room for God in your hobbies and entertainment?

The attic is where we hide things, things we don’t want others to see, things we hoard and can’t get rid of like bitterness and envy. God would love for you to let Him there.

The workroom is where…we work! God wants you to make room for Him on your commute, in the cubicle, at school, at the job site.


I’m glad you made room for Jesus this morning. I really am. There are many things you could be doing now besides listening to God’s Word. The innkeeper—if there was such a person—Joseph’s relative made a little room for Jesus’ family, but it certainly wasn’t his best. They got the scraps, the leftovers.

God’s glad you gave Him this hour, but He wants all of you. It’s only fair. He gave His very best for us—His only Son, Jesus. Jesus made room in his life for us. He stepped away from heaven and came down to live with us, to be God with us, Emmanuel.

You always make room…especially when it comes to God. Where do you need to make room? Where do you need to surrender?

I Surrender All

  • Credits
Some ideas from

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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