Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger silhouetted against a dark wall

Were Mary and Joseph Social Outcasts?

I’ve often wondered: Were Mary and Joseph social outcasts? Were they rejected by Joseph’s relatives because she was pregnant? Joseph’s family lived in Bethlehem, and there was “no room” for Mary and Joseph when they arrived in town.

I read a blog post saying that the word translated “inn” is more accurately a “guest room.” They were still guests in a home, just in the room with the animals, not the guest room. In this telling, they must have been in the house of a relative, alongside other visiting relatives. A very different scene comes to mind, of aunts and sisters-in-law helping to receive the baby Jesus and Mary basking in the security of the support and care of Joseph’s family.

But Luke’s account of this scene only tells us that “there was no room” for them. No room for a pregnant woman. No room for a young girl in need. 

And I’m having a hard time thinking that if Mary was received with support, she wouldn’t get the guest room for the night of childbirth. Being relegated to the room with the animals seems like yet another clue that she and Joseph have been overlooked or outright rejected.

Only the shepherds—the swarthy young men out in the fields—run to see this child. Only the shepherds proclaim a message of promise and joy. 

I of course can’t say for sure, but I still think Mary and Joseph were social outcasts, unwelcome in Joseph’s hometown, and she gave birth in the midst of that rejection and shame and loneliness. 

And I think this matters for us, because it reminds us of so many things:

  • that sometimes saying yes to God’s work in our lives means pain and hardship
  • that Christ is born into our loneliness and rejection and shame
  • that we never remain alone (the shepherds race to the manger and proclaim a message of hope and joy)

Some of us will spend Christmas surrounded by happy family. Others will spend it surrounded by family and yet feel terribly alone. Others still will be isolated, grieving, disconnected.

The promise of Christmas is that even when we are rejected, we are not alone. Even when we mourn, we have reason to rejoice. Even when it is dark and cold and lonely and dirty and messy, the God of the universe enters in.


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