"There Was No Room for Them in the Inn"



“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

“I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams"

No two Christmas songs could be more different in terms of feeling and lyrics. Yet, their differences serve as reminder that while Christmas for some is filled with glee, for others it can be filled with gloom. For this latter group of individuals, I believe there is great comfort to be taken from some of the most famous words of the Christmas story: “there was no room for them in the inn.”[1]

Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

We all know how the account of the first Christmas begins—not in the little town of Bethlehem, but in the little town of Nazareth, when an angel appeared to the Virgin Mary and proclaimed that she would be the mother of the Son of God. To calm Joseph's fears of being espoused to a woman who bore a child that was not his own, an angel eventually appeared to him in a dream to announce the glad tidings of Christ's birth.


However, while residing in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph were required to make a journey to Bethlehem to be taxed, or rather, surveyed so that Caesar Augustus, the powerful Roman Emperor, could levy taxes on his Jewish subjects. As was the custom, the Jewish people were to return to the city of their lineage for the survey, which for Joseph, was Bethlehem.

Inconvenienced to be sure, Mary and Joseph nevertheless set off for Bethlehem where they would to need to find not only lodging, but also a suitable place where Mary could deliver her little baby. Yet, when they arrived in Bethlehem, we read from the record that rather than finding comfortable and suitable living quarters, "there was no room for them in the inn." 

There has been speculation over the years as to why Joseph and Mary experienced such a cold reception in Bethelehem. Elder James E. Talmage, for example, argued in his book Jesus the Christ that while Joseph and Mary “failed to find the most desirable accommodations,” it was not entirely unusual for folks to find lodging in a stable in a time and place where there were no Holiday Inns dotting the highways.[2]

However, when serving as the Dean of Religious Education at BYU, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland wondered "if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not 'there was no room in the inn’ but specifically that ‘there was no room for them in the inn.” "We cannot be certain," he said, "but it is my guess that money could talk in those days as well as in our own. I think if Joseph and Mary had been people of influence or means, they would have found lodging even at that busy time of year."[3] 

Regardless of the reasons why Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus had to settle for subpar accommodations, the fact is that Jesus deserved something more. This was a King—our King—and surely the best of accommodations were merited for the royal birth. 


Lessons from the Stable

This leads to the first lesson inherent in the words, "there was no room for them in the inn":

Life is not always fair. 

This is a tough reality of mortality to swallow, particularly when we are so accustomed to saying things like, "They’re good people, everything should work out for them." But the fact is that just as doors to the inn were closed to wonderful and faithful Mary and Joseph, sometimes doors are closed to the most faithful of us, at least temporarily, in one way or another—good physical and mental health; devoted companionship; desired work opportunities; the ability to bear or raise children; unrealized or unattainable dreams; and a host of other things. As such, Elder Boyd K. Packer once taught that, "Life was never meant to be easy or fair."[4] 

This was certainly the case for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. In fact, the Inspired Version of Luke 2:7 says there was not only no room for them in the inn, but in the "inns.” I would certainly sympathize with them if after facing rejection at not just one inn, but at many inns, they said something like this: "Why is this happening to us? We’re trying to do our best. We've been obedient. We've done everything we have been asked to do. Shouldn't things be working out a little better?" Alas, a stable with animals, dung, and debris would be all that was left for the weary travelers to stay. 

However, this brings me to the second lesson:

Contentment can be found in our constraints

Although the record does not exactly say this, I personally can't imagine Joseph and Mary grumbling about the inns being full once Jesus was born. Yes, his birth occurred in circumstances they certainly had not wanted and perhaps had not expected. Yet, when the star gleamed and the shepherds came, Mary, in place of focusing on what might have been, "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."[5] I like to think that she was pondering on and perhaps even repeating the words she had said a few months previous to her cousin, Elisabeth: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour…For he that is mighty hath done to me great things."[6] 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said that "developing greater contentment within certain of our existing constraints and opportunities is one of our challenges."[7] Such contentment in limiting circumstances was possessed by Mary and Joseph and can be possessed by us— but especially if we remember the third and final lesson: 


For the faithful, the Lord will rectify all injustices. 

I find it interesting that in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, preceding the phrase "there was no room for them in the inn" is this phrase: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." Perhaps this storytelling sequence implies, among other things, that the joy of Christ's birth overshadowed the frustration of not finding adequate accommodations for the birth. 

When we face troubling circumstances or watch others experience them, we would do well to remember that for the faithful, the joy of the Savior will, whether in this life or the next, supplant the sorrows and injustices of mortality. Moreover, we can be sure that in the eternities, there is no maximum occupancy in the Savior's inn, and that our celestial accommodations will make even the nicest 5-star hotel seem like a stable. In short, all that is unfair or unjust about mortality will be rectified through the atonement of Christ, for as the scriptures testify, "[Christ] is full of grace, equity, and truth."[8] 

Testimony

On occasion, I have struggled to know how to comfort those whose devotion seems to be met with an overabundance of opposition. How can I comfort someone who is going through something that I have never experienced and that seems entirely unfair?

As I have struggled with and prayed about those questions, I have some to this singular conclusion:  I alone can never adequately comfort someone, and I certainly cannot rectify all injustices. To be sure, I can do my part to "lift up the hands which hang down."[9] But in the end, my efforts, as sincere and heartfelt as they are, will ultimately fall short of what is needed.

As such, I have discovered that the best thing I can do, the one thing that can bring lasting comfort, is to bear testimony of the Savior, the Prince of Peace. For as the Book of Mormon prophet Mormon said to his son, Moroni, during their own troubled times: "May not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up."[10]

I testify that Jesus came to lift us up by "[preaching] good tidings unto the meek...[binding] up the brokenhearted...[and comforting] all that mourn."[11] 

I testify that as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief", that "the chastisement of our peace was upon Him," and that "with His stripes, we are healed."[12]

I know that he "descended below all things" so that He could “comprehend all things.”[13]

And I witness that standing triumphant over sin and death, Jesus stands ready to envelop us in the "arms of mercy.”[14]

That we will find ourselves wrapped in those arms this Christmas—especially if we are in a spiritual stable—is my sincerest hope and prayer. 




[1] Luke 2:7
[2] Talmage, James E., Jesus the Christ, p. 87.
[3] Holland, Jeffrey R., “Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store,” Ensign, Dec. 1977.
[4] Packer, Boyd K. “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them,” Ensign, May 2012.
[5] Luke 2:19
[6] Luke 1:46-47, 49
[7] Maxwell, Neal A., “Content with the Things Allotted unto Us,” Ensign, May 2000.
[8] Alma 9:26
[9] D&C 81:5
[10] Moroni 9:25
[11] Isaiah 61:1-2
[12] Isaiah 53:4-5
[13] D&C 88:6
[14] Alma 5:33


Stephen Courtright is an assistant professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, where he teaches and conducts research in the area of organizational behavior. He grew up in DeForest, Wisconsin, and Kuna, Idaho, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Concepcion, Chile from 2002-2004. He graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a B.S. in Accounting and the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He and his wife, Nicole, met when they were six years old and grew up together as close friends. They married in 2004 and are the proud parents of four children.

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