There are only three places in the Holy Land we’re pretty confident are the real, historical locations they claim to be. One is Jesus’ empty tomb. Another is the Apostle Peter’s house in Capernaum. And the third is the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot marking the first Christmas.
It’s a huge hassle to get there: Bethlehem is in Palestine, so you can’t take a cab from Jerusalem to the Church of the Nativity. You have to go to the Wall Israel built, then go through intense security, then get another cab on the other side that will take you to Nativity square. Then you wait in a huge line, filing one-by-one for sometimes hours through the enormous, ancient church building until you reach a staircase that descends into a cellar.
The staircase and the cellar are packed with pilgrims all waiting for a chance to venerate the very place where Jesus was born. A golden star in the middle of a white tile floor marks that place, and the star has a hole in the middle, where you can get down on your knees, reach through, and touch the floor of the cave where Mary gave birth.
In theory, it sounds pretty amazing.
In practice, it’s pure insanity. The pilgrims are a mass of bodies from all over the world, with any number of hygiene standards. Everyone is cranky from waiting in line, dealing with customs and cabbies and in a hurry to get to other holy sites. The basement itself is a small chamber, and pretty claustrophobic even for those who don’t mind tight spaces.
And when you’re on your knees, reaching into that hole, you get about 15 seconds before people start yelling at you to move on.
Not so special. Pretty stressful, actually.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that the site of the first Christmas so closely mirrors our Christmas celebrations. In theory, Christmas is a beautiful thing. Peace on Earth, Good Will towards all people.
But in practice, now that Thanksgiving is in the dust and kids are counting down days till Christmas break, we’re feeling the chaos of the season. Whether it’s the increasingly ridiculous holiday wars or the shopping trips to the overcrowded malls or endless holiday activities and parties to planning and preparing those family gift exchanges, it’s hard to remember Jesus in all the hustle.
It’s entirely possible to be very busy preparing for Christmas, but fail completely to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.
And if we’re being honest, we can’t expect the chaos of Christmas culture is going away anytime soon. So what do we do? How can we be sure that in preparing for Christmas, we don’t miss the heart of the season, which is Christ coming to us?
How do we prepare for Christ’s coming today, on Christmas and every day?