No Room At The Inn

By michelle, 18 December, 2023
No Room At The Inn

From my Chasing Dragons | Hiding in Caves Substack.

I have been reading Palestinian Christian (and founder of the Bethlehem Bible College) Bishara Awad’s autobiographical “Yet In Thy Dark Streets Shining”. Given the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I am learning more daily about the ongoing conflict between the nation-state of Israel and the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. I cannot help but grieve that yet again, the spirit of Empire is overshadowing the Kingdom of God to the detriment of the Abrahamic faiths: Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. The land that belongs to the children of Abraham is crying out once again.

One of the ever-present conditions that Bishara Awad talks about in his book is military-enforced curfews. When civil unrest erupts, the occupied territories go into a forced lockdown which can last anywhere from hours to weeks. This means no leaving a home or building, not even for food or water or life-saving medical care. He describes one curfew where they were allowed to leave their homes one time per month to collect supplies. Once a month for food! Let that reality sink in. (These restrictions are only exacerbated during times of war.)

The closest I’ve ever come to experiencing a lockdown was during Covid. The US state I’m from (Indiana) was relatively relaxed in their enforcement. I live in a rural part of the state and as such, was able to walk in my neighborhood amongst the trees and hills without any concern. In fact, with access to the internet and viable delivery service, there was more inconvenience than danger to my family from the imposed curfew. I have family members in the UK for whom their severely immunocompromised son required much more strict adherence to Covid protocols. For those in more urban settings, the lockdown was not only required, it was in many cases strictly enforced. I even heard stories of people in apartment buildings not being allowed to leave their apartments for days on end.

It’s one thing to be in lockdown due to an emergency like Covid, a disease that we knew nothing about. (Similar emergency-related lockdowns occur after natural disasters.) There was a very short-lived sense of universal community at the beginning. Everyone was “doing their part” to reduce the spread of the virus. Images from around the world of empty city streets, urban centers, and public spaces carried with them both a sense of sadness but also a sense of solidarity. We were all in this together.

Yet in the United States, I also saw many in my state gather at the state capital to demand an end to the Covid lockdown so they could have, of all things, a haircut. While I understand that for them, it was the principle of being denied freedom of movement, I still cringe at the lack of selflessness demonstrated by the crowd banging on the Statehouse doors. These were privileged people decrying the loss of their freedoms, knowing very little if anything about a true government-imposed curfew. A military-enforced curfew is completely different.

Fast forward to 2023. I am witnessing a war in Gaza that seems to have no real end in sight. I am learning about enforced movements of large populations and curfews. And I cannot help but think about the story of the birth of Jesus and some of the similarities.

According to the Gospel of Luke, a census was called. “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the inhabited world (the Roman Empire) should be registered [in a census].”[1] The primary purpose of this census was taxation as well as documenting and keeping track of the Empire’s growing population both for military conscription and rule.

A decree across ALL the inhabited world. The Roman Empire was vast. And populations would have been conscripted or forcibly moved depending upon the needs of the rulers. Additional movement would have occurred during the initial occupation simply to survive. And other movements would have occurred from the nomadic nature of many of the peoples at that time. So I have to imagine this forced mass movement would have put the entire Empire on high alert. Every road and path would have been filled with anxious people trying to get to other places to fulfill the requirements of the emperor. I also imagine the legions of soldiers were on high alert as well, watching out for opportunists trying to rob travelers and zealots trying to overthrow the Empire. During times of chaos, whether planned or not, that is when trouble most likely breaks out. The best way to control large populations moving from place to place? Curfews.

Bishara Awad describes the curfew he and his family experienced during the war of 1948 that ultimately resulted in the death of his father. He further describes subsequent curfews over the next forty years, each increasingly more oppressive and dangerous. As I read his story, I found myself re-imagining the birth story of Jesus under a similar situation.

We are told that Joseph and Mary, now heavily pregnant, arrived in Bethlehem. We aren’t told a lot about the details of their travels. Only that they needed to register in Bethlehem because Joseph “was of the house and family of David”.[2] Then we learn that “while they were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for her to give birth, and she gave birth to her Son, her firstborn; and she wrapped Him in [swaddling] cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”[3]

Growing up in south Texas, I participated in annual La Posada (or Las Posadas) celebrations. This Latin American advent tradition reenacts the journey Mary and Joseph take to finally find somewhere to have their holy child. It is a festive, community-centered tradition. I remember the joy and excitement of arriving at the final home that opened to the entourage of people asking if there was any room. Wonderful conversation and food celebrating the arrival of the Christ-child. I love those memories. But I now realize they do not encapsulate the sense of urgency and fear that most likely existed for Mary and Joseph. We had no mandated, military-ordered curfew to abide by.

When we think of “no room at the inn”, sometimes we are told a sermon about hospitality. Were Mary and Joseph too poor to be allowed into the local inns? Were they simply too late in their arrival and all were full? Or is it possible, in a curfew-mandated environment, that every nook and cranny of space was occupied by families needing to stay sheltered to avoid soldiers arresting or killing them? And in such a situation, to have a child, there was no space for privacy. I imagine under curfew, offering the privacy and somewhat quiet of a stable (or cave as is traditionally believed) would have been a deep show of hospitality. But it also would have been even more isolating. Under forced curfew, would Joseph and Mary have been able to join those eating in the inn? And more importantly, would anyone from the inn have been able to help Joseph deliver the baby once Mary went into labor? [My dad says nobody actually talks about Joseph being Mary’s midwife. I think that is a sobering thought that often gets lost in our “biblical manhood” conversations and something worth pondering.]

No room at the Inn. With my new understanding of curfew and militarized occupation, I don’t ever think I’ll imagine Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem quite the same again.

To listen to an interview with Bishara Awad, go to:

To learn more about Palestinian Christians living in Bethlehem, watch this short film:

  1. Luke 2:1 (Amplified Version)
  2. Luke 2:4b (Amplified Version)
  3. Luke 2:6-7 (Amplified Version)