In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7).
In the Roman Empire periodical censuses were taken with the dual goal of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were available for military service. The Jews were exempt from military service, and, therefore, in Palestine a census would be predominantly for taxation purposes. Regarding these censuses, we have historical information as to what happened in Egypt; and almost certainly what happened in Egypt happened in Syria, too, and Judea was part of the province of Syria. The information we have comes from actual census documents written on papyrus and then discovered in the rubble of Egyptian towns and villages and in the sands of the desert.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about 80-90 miles. Accommodations for census travelers were extremely primitive. Many of these accommodations were like a series of open stalls which created a common courtyard-like space. Some historians believe it was in these common courtyard-like stalls that Mary's child was born.
The word manger means a place where animals feed; and therefore it can be either the stable or the manger which is meant. The irony of the most important event in history taking place in a manger should not be lost sight of—it reveals how God elevates the lowly and humble and rejects the proud and mighty of this world. Compare Philippians 2:6-7. For Luke this theme of reversal was of major importance.
That there was no room in the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place where there was room for him was on a cross. He sought an entry to the over-crowded hearts of men; he could not find it; and still his search—and his rejection—go on.
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.