By Not Known
Visiting Bethlehem has always been thought-provoking for me, and the recent visit was no different. Bethlehem, as a little town today, is under Palestinian control. Its community is predominantly Moslem. Yet, on Manger Square, a huge, almost 8-storey-high Christmas tree was being decorated. Colourful lights adorned the streets. When we were there, a parade was going on as the presiding priest together with the mayor of Bethlehem were ushered in to the Bethlehem Church which commemorates Christ’s birth. Throngs of Palestinian school children joined in the festivities and cheered the arriving entourage. Television crews commanded the best vantage spots to film the event. Together with tourists from many lands, it was certainly a sight to behold, a precursor to more celebrations.
Entering that church can also be quite an experience. I remember the first time I visited that church; I was amazed by the many beautiful antique lamps that hung from the high ceiling of the church as they still do today. Ancient mosaics, many of which had fallen into disrepair over the years, clung to the walls as well as to partially exposed recessed floors that belonged to a bygone era.
Then when we finally made it to the basement recess after about a 45-minute queue, we had to descend steep marble steps through a narrow arch to reach a brightly-lit alcove. At the corner of a rock recess was a marble slab with a hole; enclosing it was a metal star. According to tradition, inside that hole lay the rock where Jesus the Christ-child was born and laid. A constant queue forms there for visitors to view it. Some reach in to touch it. Others touch their crosses to it to seek blessings from contact with that rock. But one thing is sure – everyone has to kneel and crouch down low in order to get a glimpse into that star, simulating an act of devotion. This act of worship actually starts way before, at the entrance of the church, where visitors are required to bow in order to enter through the low archway.
Christmas is getting closer. Like the activities-filled Bethlehem, it will be easy for many of us to lose our focus on Him as the season gets busier. There will be parties and feasting and drinking. There will be last-minute shopping for gifts and presents. There will be trees to adorn and decorate as well as greeting cards to buy and send, etc. Some will no doubt grab the opportunity for a holiday before starting work in January. Still others might be involved in carolling and making plans to attend services, no doubt to worship the Christ-child.
Whatever plans this Advent season may be, we must not miss the real reason for Christmas.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).