Joseph lives and works several days journey from his place of origin. Colonial rulers require his return to the place his clan belongs to register his identity for taxation. It will lose him a week of income earning and family time, just when Mary is about to give birth to this child whose origins and identity are wrapped in heavenly mystery. For their sakes he must do what is entrusted to him to do.
Bethlehem, village of King David's clan, was the heartland of Jewish national identity and aspiration, although its offspring spread far and wide from the necessity of having to ply a trade to earn a living. Nazareth was culturally as distant from Bethlehem as could be imagined, up in the Syrian border land, where races religions and cultures co-existed for centuries. Nobody knows how long the families of Mary and Joseph were settled there, but it's clear they had no relatives to call upon to offer them hospitality at the end of their journey south to Bethlehem.
With Mary close to giving birth, their journey was one that would be sure to end with uncertainty about where they might stay, however briefly, for the inevitable wait to be registered by the Roman authorities. It's always the poor, vulnerable and dependent who are forced to wait by the wealthy, powerful and capable. There are no concessions or privileges available to a man with a wife heavily pregnant and close to giving birth.
At the very time they need to be in a safe secure space for a healthy birth, they are forced to be utterly unsettled by a system which wants everything from them and gives nothing to them. They are displaced persons, dispossessed of real dignity or worth by state law enforcement.
In chaotic parts of the world, because of war, famine or poverty, despite best humanitarian efforts to alleviate conditions, this is still what happens. Mothers are compelled to give birth wherever they find themselves, no matter how difficult, dangerous or dirty that place may be.
With no family to welcome them, and no room for them at the inn, the one public place of hospitality for strangers and travellers, they take refuge in an animal shelter for the arrival of their baby. We know nothing of whether or not they were alone in their predicament, whether a provision of a stable was an act of good-will on someone's part, or a place furtively acquired, as is often the case of a homeless person finding a resting place.
In this story, regardless of what his parents are enduring, all eyes are on the arrival of one who is unknown, coming to his own people un-recognised and un-welcomed, despite centuries of waiting in anticipation for this day to dawn. In faith, they are ones who have trustingly said 'yes' to their part in this unique moment of cosmic history.