My husband Randy and I took a trip to Israel recently to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and we were blessed beyond measure to be there at the beginning of one the holiest seasons of the Christian calendar: Christmas. We were equally blessed to have our own personal tour guides to show us sites that the locals know well. Seeing the land where Jesus walked and trying to follow His footsteps puts the journey in perspective.
Our hosts drove us from the region of Bethlehem to Nazareth in an air-conditioned car. I can’t imagine what it was like to travel 70 to 90 miles either walking or riding on a donkey, not even to mention being pregnant. Although Mary and Joseph didn’t realize it at the time, their journey was done in order to fulfill prophecy: “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, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” ( Micah 5:2)
One of the places we made sure to visit was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Locals say this is the exact location of where the manger was that Jesus was laid in. It wasn’t the wooden feed holder that we’ve come to recognize over the years… it was actually a water trough that was made of a large stone . Even though He came without worldly fanfare, great amounts of gold and silver ornamentation mark the spot. Unless you actually know the Christmas story, you would never know that this was a stall for livestock over two thousand years ago. And yet, the King of Heaven chose this humble dwelling to make His entrance into the world that He spoke into being.
The shepherd’s field is in walking distance of the Church of the Nativity. Although there are buildings all around, a few acres on the hillside are left alone with just grass growing. There is a sign at the entrance to the field that tells visitors that they can’t enter the field without the permission of a priest who is supposed to be on duty. (We didn’t find one) It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to picture a flock of sheep grazing by moonlight as the angel choir sang “Glory to God.” And then, picture the shepherds leaving their sheep and running to the village to find the Baby that the angels had just announced.
Next door to the Church of the Nativity is another shrine…this time, it’s all because of drops of milk. Legend says that when Joseph was told by the angel to take Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt, she needed to nurse Him along the way. While He was nursing, a few drops of her milk fell to the ground, turning the soil white. Generations later, some women go on pilgrimages to the Milk Grotto in Israel, praying for miracles of conception and for them to be able to successfully nurse their own babies.
One location that is not commercialized is the re-creation of the Nazareth Village. The Bible tells us that Jesus grew up in Nazareth and this village is a small replica of His hometown. A few hills where the Child Jesus might have played are near the compound. The village portrays many situations that were part of Jesus’ life: the carpenter shop, the winepress, the sheepfold, the temple, the weaver, the olive press. People who work here are volunteers because they love the Lord and they see value in the lessons that they can help teach in this setting.
Thank God that Jesus came in the fullness of time and He came to set the captives free! So many people think of God as high and mighty and unapproachable. Well, He is high and mighty but He is very approachable because of what Jesus did in our behalf. He is the best present ever and we are saved because he has called us to be His own.
“… when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Galatians 4:4,5
May the birth of our Savior fill your heart with His peace, love, and joy! Merry Christmas and may God bless us, everyone!