Two Thousand years have passed since the birth of Jesus but to me it feels like it could have been yesterday. My journey to Bethlehem actually started about 40 years ago when as a child. I saw the TV mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. My Mom and Dad where not churchgoers. We never spoke of spiritual things. I didn't have a bad childhood. I don't have bad memories really of any kind. But I felt something missing and even at a young age the story and visual images of Jesus captured me. A Baby Changes Everything!
I remember asking my Mom and Dad if we could go to church. My mom suggested to Dad that it might be a good idea. My Dad said no, but that we could if we wanted to. Mom took me once, I do think at Easter, and I remember seeing the Pastor (which was likely a priest) walking in wearing a robe and I literally was so excited because I thought he was Jesus. A Baby Changes Everything!
Eventually one Sunday my Dad awakens all of us on a Sunday morning and announces that we need to get up and get dressed to go somewhere. "And make sure you dress nice". My brother was very young, so I think he was just going with the flow. I was probably about 8 years old and my mom and I were kind of looking at each other like, "What the heck?". So Dad drove us to a Baptist Church close to our house. I don't think I could have been more excited. I can still feel that emotion. From that day forward we attended church every week and we all accepted Jesus as our Savior. A Baby Changes Everything!
My literal journey to Bethlehem happened just a mere few weeks ago. This was a priceless opportunity and one I'll treasure. It was a little different than I imagined but still very special. For starters we were delivered to the city of Bethlehem via motor coach. Bethlehem now is in the West Bank. We had to enter the city through a checkpoint of a gated entry. Yes, there is a highly secured wall. Since we are with a very good guide who had credentials to bring groups in, we are granted access. Our trusted Israel guide made sure we knew that Christians were very much the minority in Bethlehem and that he was going to turn us over to a very special Christian guide who actual resides in Bethlehem. Her name was Sana and we all instantly have a connection to her. She speaks about how most Christians have left her town due to the cultural and religious climate in the West Bank, but that she has promised her father to continue living in Bethlehem and sharing the story of Jesus! The walk from the bus down to the Church of the Nativity was one of reflection and anticipation. Along the way we find shops and all kinds of interesting things. But we are intent on listening to Sana share about what we are embarking upon. Most all biblical sites are now marked by churches, or I really should say Grand Basilicas to commemorate and honor a particular happening. So we made our journey to the Church of the Nativity. Sana explains that we will be able to see the spot were Jesus was born and also the spot where the manger was. But she warns us that we need to have a particular strategy for getting down to the grotto and how to stay together as a group (and how to prevent people from cutting in front of us!). As we arrive in front of the church it is definitely spectacular and very unique in the fact that it is shared by the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Quite a feat in sharing the space for worshipping in different manners. Each congregation has their own wing and the priest all take their turns with rituals and daily prayer in the Basilica. It's almost a picture of how the birth of Jesus has brought so many together. A Baby Changes Everything!
While the Church of the Nativity is revered as one of the most Holy sites in the world, getting down to the grotto where the birthplace and manger are is quite the daunting task. Many people can wait in line up to 4 hours. Our guides, Rafi who delivered us there and Sana, who was our Bethlehem guide must have worked some magic for us, as we really only had a few groups ahead of us and our wait was brief. Now to the advice given to us by Sana. She said we must form a semi circular barrier with our whole group around the stairs and that we must not let let anyone break in front of or around us. So much for "Oh Holy Night!" It was more like we were sheep being herded to our destination.
Bryan starts our semi circle barricade around the curved steps going down onto the grotto
I take up the other side and stay close to Sana!
Going down to the grotto! Sorry for the picture quality but it was a frenzy going down!
Upon getting down the steps, we are definitely in an old cave and it is very tight quarters. What I wasn't really expecting is that the locations are covered in various things to mark, decorate and protect each spot. As soon as you get down the steps there is a little mantel with a silver star that marks the spot of Jesus' birth. While things are tight, chaotic and you know you must hurry so others can enjoy, I did try to find a moment to reflect and thank Jesus for His sacrifice to come to this earth. I thought of Mary and how scared yet excited she must have been.
The Star marks the spot!
Next you quickly move to another spot in the cave that is the area of the manger. Again it is covered and decorated but you can still feel and visualize the spot.
The actually spot of the manger!
After leaving the grotto and walking through the beautiful Basilica, Sana takes us out to a beautiful courtyard. In my mind I am thinking this is the end of the journey. But we quickly approach an area that has a grated floor showing down into the ground below. She stops us and proceeds to tell us a story that touched me so deeply. Sana said we were standing over and looking down at what had been a living room in a home. She explains that the original translation of the "Inn" was really referring to a living room or guest type room in a home. Not what we consider as an Inn, like hotel space. Mary and Joseph were no doubt probably arriving to stay at his family home. Coming from the line of David, he would have been highly regarded and respected upon his arrival. Sana explains that she has been taught and it has been passed down through generations that the "No Room at the Inn" was in fact referencing that Joseph's family actually sequestered Mary and Joseph to the families stable as a sign of disrespect towards Mary who, in their minds, had brought Joseph and their family dishonor. This would have really gone against the culture of hospitality towards family and even strangers in that time. Sana says that Joseph's family rejected the love that Jesus came to bring and how so many generations later we still reject Jesus and put Him in a place of dishonor and in the dark and cold places of our hearts. Wow!
Courtyard at the Church of the Nativity
While I am still on a journey of finding Jesus each and every day, I realize I am truly blessed to have been able to stand on a spot that has meant so much to me since my journey started 40 years ago! My wish for you is that your journey is not a difficult one. That you can find Him and that you don't let Him be pushed aside to a stable. That you accept His love and that you know A Baby Changes Everything!
For inspiration in your Christmas Journey, here are a few of my favorite things that remind me of Jesus and the Story of His Birth:
1.) Movie: The Nativity Stor
Released in 2006, it's my favorite movie that solely focuses on the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.
It is available to order on DVD at Amazon. It's available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play.
It brings me to tears at the end thinking about the wonderful gift of Jesus.
2.) Book: Two from Galilee
One of my all time favorite books! It is a fictional account of the love story of Mary and Joseph and details their courtship,
her revelation to Joseph about her pregnancy and their journey to Bethlehem. I love it! Ill probably be reading it for the
third time during this Christmas season! It's available to order on Amazon.
You're Here by Francesca Battistelli
Light of the World by Lauren Daigle
If I am frazzled, nervous and uptight during the holiday hustle and bustle, this song soothes me. I cry each and every time!
A Baby Changes Everything by Faith Hill
My inspiration for the direction of this blog post!
Teenage girl, much too young Unprepared for what's to come A baby changes everything
Not a ring on her hand All her dreams and all her plans A baby changes everything A baby changes everything
The man she loves she's never touched How will she keep his trust? A baby changes everything A baby changes everything
And she cries! Ooh, she cries Ooh, oh
She has to leave, go far away Heaven knows she can't stay A baby changes everything
She can feel He's coming soon There's no place, there's no room A baby changes everything A baby changes everything
And she cries! And she cries! Oh, she cries
gather 'round (Up above the star shines down) star shines down (A baby changes everything)
Choir of angels sing Glory to the newborn King A baby changes everything A baby changes everything Everything, everything, everything
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
My whole life has turned around I was lost but now I'm found A baby changes everything, yeah A baby changes everything
Songwriters: Craig Michael Wiseman / James Timothy Nichols / Kimberly Kerryann Wiseman
A Baby Changes Everything lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Round Hill Music Big Loud Songs
Sana told us that it is Christmas every day in Bethlehem. My wish is that Christmas, for you, is everyday... wherever it is that you live! This blog post is dedicated to my daughters, including my "fifth daughter" Indy Kirk. I love you girls!