Today is December 24 – Christmas Eve – and it is already Christmas day in parts of the world.
Last year, my wife and I traveled to Israel, and among the many places we visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. This church is built over the traditional site of the birth of Jesus Christ. Of course we cannot know for sure if this is the exact location of His birth, but as I have told many people, that is not important to me, or to most who come to this place. We were in the neighborhood of this world-changing event, and we were able to take in the mystery of the Incarnation in a concrete way, and share in the devotion of millions of pilgrims who have come to this place over the centuries.
Here is the traditional site of the birth of Christ, beneath the floor under the altar in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity. Many years ago, people began chipping off pieces of the floor so a marble floor was laid with a hole surrounded by a silver star where you can put your hand to touch the original ground.
Across the room from this spot is the traditional location of the cattle manger where Jesus was laid after birth. Again, we cannot be sure this was THE spot, but the coldness of the stone reminded me that Jesus’ birth was not in a modern hospital with today’s clean and comfortable conveniences. His birth was humble in the extreme.
In the courtyard of the church, we saw a sign in two languages – we’ve seen them around the world in England, Greece, throughout the United States, and several places in Israel – that reminded us once again of the truth of what happened on that night so long ago.
We also visited the traditional Bethlehem shepherd’s fields, and a cave that was used by shepherds. We used our imagination to picture the sight of the angel announcing Jesus’ birth:
Fear not! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-22)
Here is a painting of the announcement of the angels that is in the Chapel of the Shepherd’s Fields in Bethlehem:
In our home, we have a nativity set that was given to us in 1978 by my grandmother. We’ve always displayed it around this time of year and in our home in Arizona, it sits on the mantle above our fireplace (yes, even in Arizona, a fireplace is welcome in the winter, although I confess that instead of hauling firewood for our wood stove like I did in Massachusetts for so many years, I am very grateful that this natural gas fireplace is operated by a remote control in my hand).
When we moved here in 2012, we noticed something quite nice: on Christmas Day, the sun shines through a small glass block window over our front door and at 8:30 am, it comes to rest on the central figures of Mary and Jesus. We didn’t plan this; it just happened.
It is a remarkable little thing, with this happening every year at the same time. The light on Mary and Jesus reminds us of the important truth of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ:
Then Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The light of life. Everlasting light. Yes, we have fun with Santa Claus and Jingle Bells and all the rest. But the Truth of Christmas is much more interesting. And important.
Merry Christ-mas, friends.