The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories, was established in 1860. It faithfully serves the town of Bethlehem with a variety of important ministries. In recent years, the congregation has been able to expand its mission with a larger building dedicated to education and community activities.
An ancient cave was discovered while the site for the new building was being excavated. The congregation decided to leave the cave intact to show what a cave stable might have looked like when Joseph and Mary arrived over 2000 years ago.
The first sense I had when I saw the site is that this stable is nothing like the great barns to which we are accustomed in our American context. It is a small, intimate space where humans and beasts would be close companions. Being a cave, it is cool and very quiet, almost like an empty sanctuary. It is not hard to imagine a couple settling into this place after a long journey or its use as the birthing place for a child.
In his comments on Luke 2:7, John Calvin said, “We see, at the same time, what sort of beginning the life of the Son of God had, and in what cradle he was placed. Such was his condition at his birth, because he had taken upon him our flesh for this purpose, that he might, ‘empty himself’ (Phil. 2:7 ) on our account. When he was thrown into a stable, and placed in a manger, and a lodging refused him among men (sic), it was that heaven might be opened to us, not as a temporary lodging, but as our eternal country and inheritance, and that angels might receive us into their abode.”
That Christmas spirit that seems only to come in December is not meant to be temporary lodging in our souls. It is meant as a place to live our lives and enjoy the rich gift we have received from God. Calvin is right — in a small, quiet cave stable the heavens opened up to us.
Remember Bethlehem. May your hearts find permanent lodging in the Christ child.
The monthly columns by the stated clerk and General Assembly moderator are translated into Spanish and Korean and can be found at the Office of the General Assembly Web site.