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Viewpoint from Rt Rev Alan Winton, Bishop of Thetford

alan wintonThe Rt Revd Alan Winton
Bishop of Thetford

This year I made my first visit to Bethlehem, as part of a short study tour that also took us to Jerusalem. It was quite something to stay a few yards from Manger Square and to see something of the modern day reality of Jesus’ birthplace
There were many wonderful aspects to the visit, but I found it quite hard visiting some of the Holy sites because most of them had churches built on them. This was particularly difficult in the case of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which marks the place where Jesus’ birth is thought by some to have taken place. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, should I, and it may seem a bit strange for me to be complaining about the presence of church buildings. But the nativity story is all about the poverty and vulnerability of Jesus’ birth. Jesus was not born in a palace, but his parents struggled to find anywhere to sleep and they were quickly forced to flee for their lives. Somehow marking the place with a highly decorated church building took away for me something of the significance of his birth

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I sat in my room in Bethlehem thinking about my unease at visiting the birthplace, and as I looked out of the window I noticed something in the valley below me. The view was quite distant, but it seemed that a young boy was leading a handful of cattle back towards his home. On the back of the house was a rough looking lean-to. The cows were brought into the yard where there were also some chickens and a goat, I think. It quickly dawned on me that this was what I had been hoping to see in Bethlehem – it was a modern version of the stable behind the inn. Here was the sort of rough shelter in which Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus
That view was a gift for me and gave my visit to Bethlehem the authenticity I wondered if I was going to find there. Is my experience important for faith?
Part of the beauty of the Christmas story, for me, is the way that the Christ-child identifies with the poor and homeless and insecure people of our community and of our world. And in this winter when there are people along the coast of Norfolk still recovering from flood damage to their homes or even the loss of somewhere to live, that reminder of the fragility of Jesus’ birthplace was even more important

May those who know what it is to be homeless, or to live in vulnerable and fragile circumstances, know the blessing of Christ this Christmas. Amen
+ Alan Thetford