Reflections of the Holy Land: Church of the Nativity
by Sarah Derrick
It was Christmas Eve. Well, it was Epiphany in the Western Church, but for our Eastern brothers and sisters, it was Christmas Eve, and we found ourselves in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. Needless to say, it was a popular location this day. We stood in line for what seemed to be a very long time. Around us, Orthodox priests—as we found ourselves in the Eastern Orthodox side of the church—were busily walking around, preparing for services and special guests. Incense and anticipation filled the air. We knew we were about to see something amazing! We were about to see the place where it is believed Jesus was born. We pressed forward into the cave, and when we emerged, we found ourselves saying, “That was it?”
I wonder if our reaction at the cave was much different from the world’s reaction to a baby in a manger, inside a cave-barn, in Bethlehem. “That was it?” There is so much anticipation as we lead up to Christ’s entrance into the world. Even within this building, large groups gather to celebrate an incredible gift to the world. As groups gather and lift their voices in liturgy, the cave remains below—humbly in place, for pilgrims to see. The birth of Christ is what unites the masses who visit this site: Eastern and Western, Protestant and Reformed. We were guests, certainly. We have been welcomed in by our brothers and sisters to celebrate with them, to observe how they recognize the holy in their midst. It is this hospitality, the shared love and joy made possible in Christ’s birth, that moves out of the humble cave into the community of believers.
Originally printed in the May-June 2016 edition of the South Carolina Lutheran. Subscribe today for only $10 for six issues a year by calling the office at 803-765-0590.