A few years ago I saw a t.v. special about the ancient culture of the middle east. They pointed out that the typical home of that time had a stable area on the ground level where the family animals were kept, while the family lived in the upper room. This instantly made sense to me because I've seen it in other cultures too. For example I once toured a Scottish farming museum from circa. 1000 AD, where the house also sheltered both the family and their animals. A further example is that of my step-dad who grew up in Holland in the 1940s. His family home likewise sheltered people and animals under one roof.
Here's another article that got me thinking, from Christianity Today.
So, I wonder. When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem did they find all their relative's homes over-crowded and they were shown to the stable? Or were they perhaps even shunned due to Mary's "awkward" condition and so sent to the stable room with the animals. This writer takes that view.
This also begs another question. Why on earth was Mary subjected to this long difficult journey so late in her pregnancy? I know there was a mandatory census underway, but in that culture the women and children were considered property of their male Head of Household... So couldn't Mary have rested in Nazareth while Joseph travelled to Bethleham where he would have included her in his records?
Now here's a conjecture - based soley on the culture as I understand it. Was it a matter of Mary's safety? Could she have become the target of an honour-killing had she stayed behind, beyond Joseph's protection? Sadly, this practice still goes on today - in Nazareth! And here's another case, albeit related with a dark punchline.
Slowly a more accurate background story of Jesus' birth may become known. The bucolic Sunday school sanitized version doesn't do justice to the magnitude of the event and the degree of faith exercised by Mary and Joseph. And more signiciantly - it fails to portray how deeply God was about to overturn the whole world!