I recently read that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is being restored after 600 years, and was reminded of this column from a few years ago. Merry Christmas to you, wherever the Lord leads you!
Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…Luke 2:15
How often we look back on the way God orchestrated something in our lives, something so totally opposite from what we had planned, and say, “But, of course, it had to be just as it was.” Such was the case when Mary and Joseph traveled over rugged trails into Judea to the little town of Bethlehem. Certainly Mary didn’t expect to be having a baby so soon, and definitely not so far from home. But the journey fulfilled prophecy, for it is recorded in Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel.”
Surely the shepherds didn’t expect to be visited by a heavenly host that starry night either–nor to travel to Bethlehem to worship a newborn King.
As Christmas comes this year, the question on our hearts needs to be “Where are you leading me, Lord? What plans do you have for me that I don’t even know about yet?” When we ask those questions sincerely, we can celebrate Christmas Bethlehem bound, ready to go where He leads and ready to humbly worship at the feet of our Lord.
My husband and I were privileged to travel to Israel in 1998 and Bethlehem was one of the stops along our way. We were somewhat surprised by what we found there—not the idyllic scene portrayed on greeting cards, but an enormous, ornate Greek Orthodox church, the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where Jesus was said to have been born. Pilgrims to Bethlehem step down cavernous steps inside this church into a small enclosure made even closer by the many tapestries and incense-burning lamps hanging all around. In turn, each traveler gets down on hands and knees to peer into a grotto of sorts where a 14-pointed star is embedded in the floor to “mark the spot” where Jesus was born. Jewish tradition ensures this spot is accurate, but it’s now so different from what it once was—and from what we expected.
At another stop along our tour, we saw a typical manger from the time of Jesus’ birth. It was not a wooden structure filled with hay, but a chiseled stone watering trough. Thinking of these things now, I realize there’s no better time than Christmas to set aside all our preconceived ideas. Rather than celebrate just as we always have, let’s open our hearts to the plans the Lord has for us this Christmas. Like Mary and Joseph may we be, in heart and spirit, Bethlehem bound.
(Painting shown is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Rembrandt.)