This is what we are so familiar with when we hear of the Christmas Story. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that everyone was to be registered. The decree called for you to be registered in the town of your fathers, which led to Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem at this time when she was due for the birth of her son.
When we read there was no room at the inn and that Jesus was placed in a manger. We get an image of a very pregnant Mary being turned away from a nice hotel and sent to spend the night in a barn on a cold snowy night. The Sheppard tending their flocks make it more likely it is fall and while the nights would be cool, they probably weren’t cold and snowy.
Second our image of the manger and stable are probably a little skewed by what we picture for a place to keep animals. Albert Barnes in
his notes on the New Testament gives us a better picture of where Mary and Joseph more than likely settled down for the night. He quotes a description of an inn given by Dr. Kitto. I’m going to paraphrase that description; an inn at that time would have had a grand archway that led to a large open area with a well in the middle. In the walls around this open space would be doorways leading to oblong shaped rooms. The rooms would be unfurnished and the only light would come from the doorway which opened to the center opening. In most inns the animals would be kept in the open area. If the inn was one of the fancier establishments it would have an empty hallway that led to the back wall. The hallway would serve as the stables. There would be a bench built into the wall. So a traveler would have a place to set or place food for their animals.It was more than likely on one of these benches that Jesus was laid. So while this would not be the best accommodations for a king, it wasn’t exactly what we picture when we thing of a stable.
The thing that is significant isn’t how bad it was. We don’t have to try and make the birth of Jesus sound horrible, as if he was in a feeding trough freezing to death while animals ate food from under him. The point is that Jesus is the eternal king. He is God with us. The birth of Jesus was God’s plan of restoring fallen sinners to Himself and it was part of his plan for Jesus to coma as a humble servant that was willing to die for us. If Jesus the King can humble himself to be born in this way then shouldn’t we definitely humble ourselves in His service.
-  Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Luke & John, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884-1885), 18. ↩