The Place And Meaning Of Christ’s Birth

Mary and Joseph were late arrivals in Bethlehem. The inn being full was a blessing. In that era an inn, known as a caravansary, consisted of a plot of ground cleared of rocks. The rocks were used to build a type of fence. It was a safe haven for travelers and their animals. Centuries earlier King David had rewarded one of his loyalists by giving him a caravansary in his home town of Bethlehem.

There is no mention of an innkeeper in Scripture but evidently there was one who allowed Mary and Joseph to use his stable. Caves were and still are used as stables in that land. Being allowed to use it gave them more privacy than they would have had in the open courtyard of the inn.

By order of Emperor Constantine a grove of trees on the edge of Bethlehem growing around the cave was cleared and an ornate church built over it. It is known as the Church of the Nativity. It is here Christian pilgrims come to worship.

Through the centuries pagans have built temples to their gods on the site. Vandals have profaned it. Muslim raiders rode horses in the church and sacked and pillaged it. To stop this locals used large stones to fill in the arched doorway and make it so small one has to virtually crawl in. Recently Palestinians seeking refuge held up in it for several days.

Entrance to the cave is to the right of the altar built over it. Descent into the small cave reveals oil lamps, incense burners, and tapestries given by royal visitors through the years. A bronze star embedded in marble is inscribed: “Jesus Christ was born here of the virgin Mary.”

I have been there when thousands from all over the world were waiting to crowd in. I have been privileged to have a few quiet moments there shared only with my wife. For a follower of Christ a visit is a most meaningful experience. It is overwhelming to think; “Here, right here, the Word became flesh and came and dwelt among us.”

“Dwelt” translates a word that can mean “to bivouac” among us. It literally denotes a residence. Thus, Christ took up residence among us.

Often a modern English version of a text gives it a contemporary understanding. “The Message” translation reads, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

Christmas is the celebration of this advent. It is a time when communities are decoratively illumined to depict the change in the neighborhood. That birth is an economic boom for our business community. When some churches seem to have forgotten “Jesus saves” businesses have come to realize Jesus not only saves He sells. They have capitalized on the spirit of giving and commercialized it. That’s not all bad.

Churches provide numerous opportunities to celebrate the true meaning of the season. Enjoy this aspect of the season. Few can go to the place of the birth but the neighborhood into which the one born there moved can be yours.