On my last trip to Israel, our group was able to visit the West Bank area. We were allowed to visit the cathedral outside Bethlehem that marks the supposed birthplace of Jesus. I am told that Church of the Nativity is the oldest complete Catholic church in the Christian world. It was commissioned by Constantine and his mother, Helena and opened in 333 AD.
When the Persians invaded Palestine in 614 AD, many of the Christian churches were destroyed. But interestingly, they saved this one because the marauders saw a mosaic on the wall that depicted 3 wise men in Persian dress.
When we visited, we had to stand in a pretty long line walking carefully around a mosaic floor that was being restored. I remember that when we finally got towards the head of the line, there was an altar like I have seen in many Catholic churches and behind that altar was a small cave or cavern.
Between the main part of the church and the cave was a tiny wooden door. It was lowered in 1500 AD to stop some looters from easily driving their carts into the cave and hauling off very valuable chalices and relics.
And that door is still very low. You must stoop way down just to get inside. And once inside, the faithful all kneel around the opening. I remember that I found a little bench off to the side and sat down. I needed to think.
This is the week of Christmas and I still have a lot to think about. You know, the message of Christmas is so inclusionary. Everyone is welcome to our celebration of the newborn King. But everyone who comes must recognize that Jesus is both the babe in the manger and the King on the Throne.
We still all need to stoop way down low and recognize the lofty place Almighty God has in the universe. We must bow down in order to properly worship Him as Lord and Savior.
Early visitors to Bethlehem got on their knees and worshiped the baby Jesus. And so should we.
During this busy commercialized season, maybe you and I need to find a little bench and sit down. Let’s turn our eyes towards that cave and honor the baby who came to die. He came to die for you and me!