Only a few weeks ago I was in Bethlehem as a pilgrim, visiting the Church of the Nativity which marks the site of the birth of Jesus Christ.
That church has just been spectacularly restored and its mosaics, icons and delicate stonework are amazing.
Of course, it looks very different from the crib scenes that we see on Christmas cards or in school nativity plays or on streets and in churches. The Church of the Nativity was first built in the early 4th Century and succeeding generations have added to it, as we have in the latest round of conservation.
The richness of the building could seem to contradict the message of the Son of God, born into a story of poverty and exclusion. There was “no room at the inn” for Joseph and Mary, an unimportant, heavily pregnant young woman.
But the story is more complex than that. The Bible tells us that God was born in flesh, like us, and made a home among us. And the church in Bethlehem has been a home for every generation that has wanted to explore the mysterious truth of who Jesus Christ is as Son of God and child of Mary.
If you have ever helped someone move out of a family home that has been lived in for several decades, you will know just how much stuff we can accumulate in a relatively short period of time.
For the better part of 2,000 years, stuff has been accumulating in Bethlehem, representing in words and pictures our human reflections on the mysterious truth of Jesus Christ.
That church building shows how human beings learn to be at home with something that defies our limited understanding. And its accumulated stuff, like in our own homes, is of varied quality.
I couldn’t help noticing that in addition to the conservation of priceless ancient works of art, all the red and gold Christmas baubles, a modern contribution, that decorate the light fittings, have been taken down, cleaned, and put back.
So the church in Bethlehem is like any church or home at Christmas. No love gift is too simple to be accepted in the stable where every child of the human race is shown to be a unique and precious child of God.