|Posted on December 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM||comments (0)|
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
Our tour bus stopped just a few blocks from the city wall of the ancient city of Bethlehem, and the driver opened the door so that Mike Najati, our tour guide, could get off. The driver closed the bus door and we proceeded to the city gate without Mike. The bus driver showed his papers to the authorities at the gate and we were allowed inside the walled city. Many people perhaps do not realize that Bethlehem is governed by Palestinians, outside of Israeli jurisdiction, and since Mike Najati, a Palestinian by birth, is a citizen of Israel, he had to get himself smuggled into Bethlehem! If caught he would be in deep trouble! We didn’t know it, but a Palestinian friend was waiting for Mike with his car, and thus he was able to get into the city without incident. The bus stopped and Mike got back on the bus to continue the tour!
Our destination in old Bethlehem was the 5th century Church of the Nativity which was built over the grotto, or cave, where it was believed that Jesus was born. The ancient church is occupied by three different Christian sects (The Greek Orthodox Church, The Armenian Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Franciscan Order) which have never been able to get along well together.
Our English translations speak of Jesus’s being born in a “manger,” but “mangers” were normally in caves, which functioned as a second room for the usual humble one-room dwellings of Bethlehem. Animals might be kept in such caves on cold nights. Our translations also say that Mary placed the baby Jesus “in a manger, because there was no room in the inn” (Luke2:7). The Greek word translated “inn” really means a “living room,” and since houses in Bethlehem were crowded with lots of visitors at that time, the grotto/manger was the most convenient place for the baby to sleep.
As is true with many of these sites, the traditional nativity grotto is now several feet below the surface of the ground. In ancient times, when towns were conquered, the houses were thrown down and over the years and the centuries, after many repeated destructions and rebuildings, the level of the ground became higher. What used to be at street level is now two or three yards beneath the street.
Today, Bethlehem is bustling with crowds of pilgrims who have come to Bethlehem to visit the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They are parading through the ancient streets with joy in their hearts because two thousand years ago a Savior was born in Bethlehem. It is not important that we know exactly when Jesus was born! The fact that He was born does matter! A lot! The Apostle Paul wrote that “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4). The reason why He was born also matters! He was born to “redeem” lost souls. He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
Today, I received an email from Mike Najati, wishing for us a happy Christmas and God’s blessings. And I remembered that day in Old Bethlehem a couple of years ago. In spite of the fact that the Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem, there is today no real peace in that city. In 1868, Phillips Brooks composed a wonderful hymn, with which I will close these thoughts.
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wond’ring love;
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth;
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.
How silently how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heav’n;
No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in – Be born in us today;
We hear the heav’nly angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
Donald R. Taylor