or an eye to the main chance?
When Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, just before that first Christmas to register for Caesar’s census, why didn’t they simply stay with Joseph’s family in Bethlehem? We will probably never known the answer for for sure but this is what I see as at least a possibility:
We know that Joseph was born in Bethlehem, and so probably brought up there too almost certainly learning his carpentry from his father; professions were frequently handed father to son down the generations. From here I see two possibilities (you might see others) either there wasn’t enough work in Bethlehem to support another carpenter or, as I think, on reaching adulthood Joseph moved on from being an apprentice to be a journeyman, travelling, improving and selling his skills, until he found a town where he could settle to earn a living. The town in which he settled being Nazareth, where he probably met Mary, as she was from that town.
By the time that Caesar had ordered the census to be taken Mary was already betrothed to Joseph and pregnat wiith child but not, of course, his child. This child was to be born Jesus Son of God, given to Mary by the Holy Spirit and to whom Joseph would become his earthly, human father.
When Caesar ordered that a census be taken, it was instructed that every man, accompanied by his family, must return to his place of birth to be counted; Joseph, with Mary, had to return to his town of birth to register.
It would have been natural for Joseph and Mary to have stayed with his family in Bethlehem, so why didn’t they? Why too was Bethlehem so full of people? Since every man, with his family, had to return to his own town of birth, I would have thought that a similar number might be leaving the town, for their own places of birth, as there were coming in.
Here again are my own ideas: Joseph was probably considerably older than Mary. He could well have been in his forties, whilst she was still a teenager, perhaps only around fourteen or fifteen. We can not know for sure at what age Joseph would have left Bethlehem but around twenty years old is probable a fair guess. If he’s now in his forties and been gone for over twenty years, then with the normal life expectancy of those times it might be that Joseph no longer had any living relatives in Bethlehem, with whom they could lodge.
Even if Joseph still had relatives in Bethlehem, it is perfectly possible that they did not have a big enough home to accommodate two guests, or perhaps they simply refused to take in Joseph and Mary. If they found out that the child Mary was carrying was not Joseph’s, to allow them into their home would bring shame and dishonour upon them. That is just one possible reason they might have tried to get a room at an inn.
We do not know how many places Joseph and Mary might have tried in to find a room; I assume there was more than one inn in town. Maybe they did find an inn with a room but that they did not have enough money to stay there, or perhaps the innkeepers did not want a pregnant woman to stay. Or of course it might be the generally accepted explanation that there just was no room.
Eventually they did of course find a stable (that might have been a nearby cave where a few animals were kept .in which to spend the night. It might have been a charitable gesture by a sympathetic innkeeper or merchant or maybe it was still with an eye to the main chance of making a few extra coppers from the visitors to the town.
This is one possible explanation and there are, of course, many others which I am sure have occurred to other people. In the great scheme of things, I suppose the reasons do not matter so much as the main event, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.