When my husband Tom and I first visited Bethlehem several years ago, we were so surprised when we saw the marked birthplace of our Savior, Christ the Lord. He was born in a very simple place – a Grotto that is around seventeen feet long and nine feet wide. Grottos were used by families in the Bethlehem and Jerusalem area.
The Grotto of our Lord’s birthplace has a large Church, the Church of the Nativity, built over the site in order to preserve it. Upon entering this ancient Church built by Constantine in the 4th century, you need to walk several yards to reach marble steps taking you down around ten feet to the Birthplace. Many oil lamps hang over a niche of marble and a silver Star with fourteen points marks where Jesus was born. The middle of this large star has an opening where you can see the original ground. One has to imagine a bit how it must have been at the time of Jesus…simple, quiet, the opening of the Grotto looking out into the village of Bethlehem. The experience of standing and seeing the birthplace of Jesus is very powerful! You can’t help but want to touch the Star, to bend low and almost crawl down to kiss the Star!
Yes, then I can imagine how it must have been. Mary knew her baby was Jesus. Mary could see His face and contemplate His face. Mary and Joseph looked with amazement at the infant Jesus.
Then the Shepherds came to see what the Angels told them: They went to Bethlehem and see what had taken place – they would find Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. (cf. Luke 2:15-20). The Shepherds were considered the ‘poorest’ in the community at that time. They lived in caves with their flock and they lived simple lives. Why would the Heavenly Angels come to Shepherds in a field near Bethlehem to tell them the good news of Christ’s birth?
Fr. Marie Dominique-Philippe, O.P. (founder of the Congregation of St. John) writes:
He (Jesus) is not born in the temple of Jerusalem, but at Bethlehem in Judea, in a cave reserved for animals and poor, homeless people. He wants His first visit to be really for the poor, for those who have nothing. He wants to rebuild everything, starting from the nakedness of the crib. …Their praise becomes the same as that of the Angels – glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men and whom he is pleased.
The Shepherds have nothing to give to this newborn King; they were too poor. What they gave was their time, their adoration, their belief in the message of the Angels.
I would like to be like the Shepherds – simple and trusting in a Heavenly Message to run and see the newborn babe in the manger. To spend time in adoration of this incredible mystery – the Word of God made flesh through Mary!
However, if we really think about it –we ALL can be like the Shepherds now, today! By approaching Christ in the crib – in prayer, in adoration, presenting ourselves to Him and giving Him the gift of our time. The Christ Child came for everyone – He wants us to come to Him first in adoration and in doing so, we receive the ultimate gift – His peace and His joy!
Every day can be a Christmas in our hearts, as we too sing on Christmas Day and everyday – “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
“The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person with singular intensity this Christmas.” – Blessed John Paul II
Blessed and Merry Christmas!