Seeking Jesus IV in the Holy Land - Oh Holy Night
by Sonja Harris on December 19, 2017 at 11:20 AM
Christmas will soon be here and it would be remiss of me not to mention the Basilica of the Nativity, the place where Jesus was born in the Holy Land. There was so much to see and much to take in that it is impossible to remember everything we saw, but I remember well the birthplace of Jesus, our Savior.
Keep in mind that most of the places where people lived in ancient times were caves. These caves are called grottos and churches were built over or next to the grottos of the holy sites in order to protect and preserve them.
Leading up to our Savior’s birth, we visited Shepherd’s Field where the shepherds heard the angel’s ‘good news of great joy’ that Jesus was born. The grotto was dark, lit by primitive lighting and available light that shined from the outside. It was amazing to me that the shepherds were able to fit into such a small place and in some instances with their sheep and cattle.
Luke 2:8-20 describes what happened
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
The Shepherds Field Chapel also known as the Gloria in Excelsis Deo Chapel is stunningly beautiful. It was designed by Alberto Barluzzi, the famous architect who designed several churches in the Holy Land. It is located southeast of Bethlehem in the West Bank in Palestine and is located next to the Shepherd’s Field grotto. We were fortunate to be the only group in the chapel and were told that the acoustics were designed to give the upmost effects of sound. We sang ‘Gloria’....I would have liked to have heard us sing again but our time was limited. Singing in this chapel truly gives praise to God Almighty.
If I thought that the voices echoing ‘Gloria’ were exhilarating, what came next was even more so! The Basilica of the Nativity was an unimaginable experience for me. We entered the Basilica through the ‘Door of Humility’, a small opening we had to stoop down to step inside. The opening is less than 5 feet and forces all that enter to bow as a sign of humility and to give reverence. It was also a way to keep out looters in the early centuries.
Once inside, we realized that there was restoration taking place and we really could not see much of anything because the walls were covered with white paper. The hallway was wide and it was brightly lit. We were led straight to the grotto where Jesus is believed by Christians to have been born. It has been identified as the birthplace of Jesus since the 2nd Century. Constantine and his mother, St. Helena, ordered the church to be built over the cave in 326 A.D. The Basilica that is presently standing was reconstructed in 530A.D..
As we walked toward the grotto, the lighting became dimmer. The stairs leading down to the cave were steep and slippery; carefully we stepped into the cave. I will also say that the fact that the steps were so slippery was a distraction.
Once inside the cave, we found it so dimly lit, that my camera had a difficult time focusing. The dark walls had several small paintings that depict the life of Jesus Christ. One of the most beautiful pieces was Mary holding Jesus in swaddling clothes and Joseph by their side. There was barely room for about 20 people standing. The ceiling of the cave was braced with iron bars and adorned with lanterns.
The Altar of the Nativity was ornately covered with red brocade and a delicate grill protecting ancient small paintings that need restoration. The right side had a painting of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus with the Magi.
Matthew 2:1-12 - The Visit of the Magi
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
Beneath the altar is a 14 point star that marks the exact place where Jesus was born. The star is marked with these words: “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est.” Meaning, here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.
It was a long journey to finally actually see and feel the star that indicates the birthplace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was an impressive moment in my life.
Directly across from the birthplace is the Manger in which Jesus was laid. It is guarded by an ornate heavy metal grate; I managed to capture this image through a small opening in the grill.
Luke 2:1-7 The Birth of Jesus.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
What a tremendous blessing for us to have visited the birthplace of our Lord and Savior.
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A Thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born.
Oh night divine
Oh night divine