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I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

CHRISTMAS IN BETHLEHEM

There are plenty of cards and manger scenes we display in our homes or
in our churches showing a barn with animals surrounding Jesus resting
in a manger. St. Francis Assisi can be credited with making this image
of the manger scene so popular. His Franciscans Friars would
eventually reconstruct his first manger scene around the world.

But what of Bethlehem where it really happened? Pilgrims for
centuries have been surprised to find that one of the oldest churches
in Christendom is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is a cave.

So how is the birth of Christ spoken of in Bethlehem by the oldest
Christian community? Before giving you that story, let me tell you
something of the name Bethlehem. The native Christians of the Holy
Land are Palestinians and Bethlehem resides in their territory. When
saying the name in Arabic it is "Beit-lehem" which means In Arabic the
house of meat". For them it foretells Jesus as the "Lamb of God". The
word Bethlehem in Hebrew is "Bet Lehem" which means "house of bread" –
which for Christians foretells Jesus as the "Bread of Life". How
precious then, the very name of the place where our Savior is born.

The city is on a hillside with the wonderful shepherd fields at the
valley. As are many of the hills throughout the Holy Land the rock is
sandstone from which the ancient peoples built their homes in both
Bethlehem and in Nazareth in to the north. Traveling from Nazareth in
the north one normally travels through the City of Bethlehem before
arriving in Jerusalem with its great Temple. Walking as one would have
done in caravans with donkeys carrying their supplies, Bethlehem would
be as a suburb to its larger sister Jerusalem. Families being what
they are, many in the north would have cousins or distant relatives in
Bethlehem and it would be easier to find a place to stay. However what
is emphasized in our western storytelling is the image of
inhospitality and crowded hotels with "no vacancy" signs.

The Mexican culture celebrates with great affection the "Las Posadas"
or "Inns". This celebration reflects Mary and Joseph quest for a place
for the birth of their child after having left Nazareth for Jerusalem.
The beauty and religious significance of the search is shared by many,
many Christians who retell the biblical text.

Now before I give away the meaning of the story as told in Bethlehem,
let me say more about the cave. As mentioned earlier our Savior's
birth occurred in a cave, not as modern myth has it in manger scenes.
This cave resembles the number 7 shape with a lip. Dug out, the floor
is sunken. The long part of the 7 served as a "sofa" as well as a
bed. The top of the 7 would be an area of various uses. Today that is
marked as the spot where Mary gave birth. The "lip" is the actual
manger or place for the animals to eat. You see, there is no real
heating in the cave, and when you want to have heat you bring the
donkey or animals in with you for heat.

So for the Christian Palestinians the story of that night is one of
hospitality – making room in your family for family, friends, even
strangers.

Now that all the preparations are near complete and we are ready to
celebrate this great feast, the spiritual challenge may be for us:
have we made room for others in our home? Have we made room for
that family member who may live life so different from us? Perhaps
there is a dear friend struggling to find housing after recently
losing their home. Have we been generous to those struggling to feed
themselves or their family members? Have we welcomed others less
fortunate to our table? Can we find room in our heart for the one we
find lacking our values, different then we, or alone in the world?
Remember Mary, the Mother of God, on this night would have been seen
as the young woman who conceived before she was even married to
Joseph. In strict religious law she could have been stoned to death.
Instead of shutting out others asking us for help let us act in a way
Mary and Joseph experienced that faithful night.

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