Luke 22:11 "...Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?" The word for "guest room" here is κατάλυμα which is also used in Luke 2:7 "laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the (kataluma)."
As opposed to Luke 10:34-35, where the "Good Samaritan" takes the beaten man to an inn (πανδοχεῖον ), and pays the innkeeper to care for him.
Implications here? That it's likely Mary and Joseph were visiting one of his relatives in Bethlehem, not a hotel, and they'd simply arrived too late to have room in the guest room. Others were already visiting, no doubt, with the census being taken. But it probably wasn't too hard to have them stay in the place already considered "unclean" due to the animals, since Mary would soon be unclean (Leviticus 12).
Of course, you have Christian Apologist Justin Martyr who in the 2nd Century AD, identified a specific cave as the birthplace of Jesus. Justin seems to be a bit closer to the action than I was...so I'm inclined to give his opinion some weight. That has now become the "Church of the Nativity". I was able to visit the Church of the Nativity back in high school, and I would agree that it seems like a pretty special place. But not because of the location or materials (for a smile, here's an example of "sacred places" taken too far) but rather what is celebrated there.
Call it a hotel, call it a guest room, or call it a cave for the pigs....say it was on this street, or that road, or a few houses down, in the basement. Ultimately, the source of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that we celebrate throughout Advent, and at Christmas...is Jesus the Christ. God becoming vulnerable man, and doing some pretty super-naturally incredible things simply by existing. Not to mention the life, words, actions, death AND RESURRECTION of that man. Whew.
So we'll keep letting our daughters play with a fancy barn, complete with it's picturesque qualities, and open wall that allows the world to worship with the angels and shepherds, and lets my daughters easily take characters out, and shove 'em in. Not because it's historically accurate, but because it's one of the best qualities of the Jesus story - it is inviting. :)
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