“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod, the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” Matthew:2:1-2 (KJV)
Bethlehem, Israel – March, 2013
Our tour group boarded our bus outside our hotel in Jerusalem and traveled 20 minutes to the city of Bethlehem which now has 25,000 residents. We drove past the huge cement wall built between Palestinian controlled Bethlehem and Jerusalem to prevent the Arab snipers from shooting them. At the checkpoint, the security guard waved us through after our driver told him we were American tourists. Our day to visit Bethlehem changed since President Obama was scheduled to visit here in three days. We parked in an underground garage and walked several blocks uphill to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site where Jesus Christ was born in a cave. We passed Muslim women dressed head to toe in black, brown, or gray burkas.
Construction began in 326 A.D. on this oldest church in the Holy Land which is still in use. It is separated into three different sanctuaries of the Franciscan Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox.
We entered through a four-foot high door with a foot high wall at the bottom. Our guide told us they built it this short purposely as a deterrent to any enemies! When an enemy entered all bent over, he couldn’t shoot anyone, but the person inside could knock him over or kill him easily.
Then we wandered from one sanctuary to the other. It was quite interesting to compare the different architectural styles, the Armenian one being the most ornate. We waited in line for about twenty minutes to see the glass-covered hole in the floor that is supposed to be the actual birthplace of Christ.
Our Hebrew Christian guide told us that in 1948 when the State of Israel began, Bethlehem had all Christian residents, but now there are only about forty families remaining. The Muslims won’t hire them, so all the Christian young people are leaving.
We went to a gift shop that an Arab Christian started to support these remaining families. The believers carve intricate nativity scenes out of olive wood. I treasure the one I purchased that portrays Mary and Joseph gazing at the Christ child in the cave. I also learned the typical manger was made of stone, unlike the wooden mangers usually portrayed in America.
As I recall my days in Labor and Delivery helping those babies into the world on Christmas morning in 1981, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone assisted Mary during her labor other than Joseph? It simply states in Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. (KJV) This is what the midwife or nurse would typically do who assisted the mother. Midwives are mentioned in Exodus 1:15-22 who feared God and preserved the Hebrew male babies from Pharaoh’s wrath. “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty.” I do not think God gave any details about Mary’s labor or delivery because He wanted all the emphasis upon Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.
The common shepherds were the first ones who learned of the Savior’s birth and came to worship Him, their Creator, who “took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; And, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7-8. Emmanuel, God with us, who left heaven above, and came to earth to be my Savior. Born to die. Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You love me so much!
Charles Wesley captured this thought beautifully in the fourth verse of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!
I pray you all may have a Christ-centered celebration of the birth of our dear Savior.