It’s hard to believe that Christmas is only a few days away!
For those who aren’t fully ready, the hours are limited and the rush is on! Shopping, wrapping, decorating, caroling, visiting, eating and traveling are now down to their final moments. In all the busyness, don’t forget to meditate on what this day commemorates and to then pause and worship the one who was born on it!
As I shared a few weeks ago, Nancy and I were privileged to visit Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem on our recent trip to Israel. Because animals were often kept in caves beneath inns and homes, the likelihood of Jesus being born in a cave is very high. Ancient tradition, in fact, teaches exactly that and today the Church of the Nativity sits overtop of the incredible spot where God became flesh and began to live among us.
Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, this Bethlehem cave was recognized as his birthplace and became a site of Christian pilgrimage. Today it is the location of the oldest continuous worship of Jesus anywhere in the world.
Interestingly enough, in 135 AD the Roman emperor, Hadrian, made the cave into a place of worship for Adonis in an attempt to eliminate all evidence of Jesus. In doing so, however, he helped to preserve the very location of his birth until Constantine’s mother, Helena, built the church over top of it around 335 AD.
Although the church itself is fairly large, the main entry door is very small and unusual. Unlike large double glass doors that many churches employ today, the simple wooden door is only about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Except for children and very short adults, all who enter must stoop or bow to do so. In ancient times, this unique entry was installed to prevent carts and horses from entering the holy place of worship, but today it is a powerful reminder of two important truths.
The first is that in order for the eternal God to become a human being, he had to greatly humble himself. In Philippians 2, Paul writes of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself...” It is impossible for us to comprehend the condescension necessary for the miracle of incarnation to occur that first Christmas in that Bethlehem manger.
The second powerful truth is the fact that in order for us to approach the Son of God, we too must humble ourselves. If we are ever to enjoy his sweet presence, we must bow our proud heads and surrender our arrogant wills. To insist on carrying our pompous egos into worship will prevent us from ever getting close to the Savior. Only when we bow our knees, bend our necks, and humble our hearts can we appropriately honor the everlasting God. For this reason, the entryway to the Church of the Nativity is known today as the Door of Humility.
As you contemplate the wonder of Christmas, remember the doorway into this ancient church. Let it remind you of the infinite humility Jesus modeled in confining himself to the physical body of a human, much more, to that of a helpless infant. And let it also remind us of our need to humble ourselves as we come into His presence to worship and adore him on his birthday. Merry Christmas! George.