When FEMA told victims of Hurricane Katrina they had to get out of their hotel rooms just before Christmas, it caused such a stir that the evacuees were given a reprieve until Jan. 7.

The Christmas deadline made me think of another couple who couldn't find housing. Suppose FEMA were in charge of lodging at that time.

Mary, who was great with child, and Joseph of Nazareth rode into Bethlehem on a donkey, looking for a place to stay.

FEMA, which was controlled by Romans, had set up tents where people could apply for shelter.

Mary and Joseph were sent to a green tent.

The Roman FEMA guard at the flap said, "Where are you from?"

Joseph replied, "From Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth."

"Then you're supposed to go to the orange tent," the Roman said. "We only take people who seek shelter from Jerusalem."

Joseph and Mary went to the orange tent. After standing in line outside the tent for 14 hours, they were permitted to go in.

A Roman FEMA clerk made him fill out a housing form, in triplicate. "If you make any mistakes you have to do it all over again," he told them.

Joseph handed in the paperwork. He was sent to another table, where a bureaucrat asked him, "What do you do for a living?"

Joseph replied, "I am a carpenter."

"Bethlehem has too many carpenters," the Roman said.

Joseph said, "If you give us lodging, I can do odd jobs around the inn."

"Do you think you can just walk in from Galilee and get a room at an inn? FEMA isn't a money cow."

"Please, sir, my wife is with child, and she will give birth at any moment."

"The most we can give you is a place in the stable," the Roman said.

"Why not a room at the inn?"

"It's Christmas and it is the busiest time of the year. Pilgrims come in from all over. You want a place in the stable or not?"

Joseph said, "I guess we have no choice."

"All right. Have your papers stamped over there, and they will give you a voucher for a spot in the manger and swaddling clothes for the baby donated by Goodwill of Rome."

And so it was that, through the housing efforts of FEMA, a child was born on Dec. 25, in a stable in Bethlehem.

The Bible tells us God's angels sang the baby's praises.

Meanwhile, the Romans knew something big was going on, but they had to stick with their budget, so they told Joseph and Mary they had to be out of the stable by Jan. 7.

When word got out, local shepherds rushed to the stable to see the child, and real-estate prices in the area soared.

FEMA is still blamed for not giving Mary and Joseph a decent place to have their baby.

Rome said it was appointing a commission to study it, and also to find out who leaked the story to Matthew and Luke.

(c) 2005 Tribune Media Services