“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
Luke 2:6-7 (NLT)
Since my first trip to Israel (which took place during the first week of Advent in 2013), I have continually been amazed at the experience of reading the scriptures and thinking, “Hey! I’ve been to that place.”
It comes upon me suddenly and unexpectedly. I’ll be reading a passage as I prepare to teach about it in Bible study, or write a sermon on it, or write a blog about it…and suddenly my breath catches in my throat and tears burn in my eyes. And with great wonder, I remember what it was to BE THERE. Right there – in the place where this part of the story happened.
This very thing happened to me as I looked up the next couple of verses in Luke’s Gospel for this evening’s blog. It’s the word “manger” that got me. You see, in North America, the mangers in our nativity pageants and on our Christmas cards are wood affairs filled with hay. And our stables are also made of wood.
But Israel is a land of stone. The animals would have been kept in a grotto – a small cave. And indeed, when you travel to Bethlehem and walk through the Church of the Nativity and decend the stairs, you descend to the Grotto of the Manger. The place where Jesus was born.
It wasn’t a wooden stable or a wooden feeding trough, it was stone. Because the birth of the Savoir took place in Bethlehem in Judea, in ancient Israel. A real time. A real place – one you can travel to, even now – and a real birth.
This isn’t some strange myth that happened in an imaginary land. This is the true story of God coming among us. Here. On Earth.
This Advent, may you know that the story isn’t imagined. May you know that the saviour isn’t a fantasy. That God’s love for you isn’t made up. It is all true. And it is all real. And it happened here.