Joseph was a carpenter, not a wealthy man. He lived in an occupied country under the rule of the Roman Empire. He engaged to Mary, a young pregnant teenager, and by what accounts we have, he did not believe the child to be his. By governmental decree, he was required to go to his family’s hometown to be counted in a census. He took the girl with him.
No paved roads, not much money for food, no place to stay. The movement related to the census would have been disruptive to everyone and created difficult traveling conditions. When he got to the town, she was in labor. There was no one to take them in, no place to stay. Just to get shelter they went into a stable.
Now a lot of us don’t have farm animals anymore, and unless you do, one rather pungent fact might escape you. Stables stink. Even the most well kept stables, which this one most likely was not. If there were sheep and cows housed there, and perhaps a camel or two, it smelled like a zoo. But it was warmer than outside, and there was a roof.
Mary went though labor and delivered a baby there. Not in a sterile medical birthing room, not even at home with her female relatives to attend to her, but in a dark stable, likely alone except for Joseph. She was perhaps 14 or 15 years old. Whatever fears and loneliness she felt are unrecorded. When the baby was born, they cleaned and wrapped him in what garments they could and laid him in a trough used to feed the animals, because that trough was off the ground and cleaner than anywhere else they had to put the baby.
They were as poor and alone as any new family you can imagine. That’s the heart of this story.
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
–The book of Luke, Chapter 2:1-7