As we continue to celebrate the Christmas season and the Incarnation of Christ, I share with you the following reflection that I wrote, while on pilgrimage in Bethlehem, visiting the Church of the Nativity, the very place Christ was born.
From Infinity to Infancy
My hand brushes the cool stone as I bow down and enter through the “door of humility” into the Church of the Nativity, for the door is so low that every person must literally bow down, lowering themselves as they enter the very place where the all-powerful God of the Universe lowered Himself from Infinity to Infancy.
As I stand upright again after entering the small door, my eyes are met with ancient beauty. Flickering candles, brightly colored icons, marble pillars, a radiant sanctuary whose beauty shines through even amid all the scaffolding of the renovations being done. But this beautiful sanctuary is not itself our destination; but rather, the hidden cave beneath it – the very cave in which Christ was born. And we lower ourselves again going deeper into this sacred place, descending steep stairs beneath the sanctuary, through a narrow doorway, into the cave within. And as I shuffle quietly into this humble cave, shoulder-to-shoulder with a small crowd of people I realize, in the hushed silence, that I am not amid just a group of tourists going to see some new and exciting thing. These people, from all walks of life, from all over the world, are coming in awe and wonder, to adore, to worship, to pray. They too, lowering themselves into this cave to speak to the Almighty God of their fears and sufferings, hopes and dreams, to pour out what is in their hearts, to pray for their loved ones.
The sacredness of this place becomes tangible: the hushed whisper of prayers, the flickering of candles lit for loved ones, the rustling of clothes as people crouch and lay down to the ground to kiss the very spot where Christ was born; chanting and singing breaks out among some, and people, both young and old, fall to their knees on the hard stone floor. For it is here in this very place where the Almighty God becomes very close, for it is right here that He became flesh, that He entered the messiness of our human lives and struggles, our whole experience of living.
There is something profoundly beautiful and humbling that cannot easily be put into words when praying at this very place. Because that Christmas story that we’ve heard so many times throughout our lives, that captured our imagination as children, that we’ve heard over and over, year after year, that we’ve re-enacted in our cute Christmas pageants, and display each year in our Nativity scenes … this story, and the full weight of what it means becomes tangible here; and you realize that this is not just any story, not just a nice bedtime tale of our childhood, but a very real story that speaks right into the heart of our – very grown-up and painful – human struggles. And it is especially poignant being amid a land with a history of such pain-filled struggle, war, and conflict. And it is this story, this reality that we are entering into more fully as pilgrims. We enter into the whole story of Christ in a very tangible way; and in doing so, the story enters into us, sinking deep into our being. But not just for ourselves, but for this saving work of Christ to become very real to us, and in us, so that through us God can continue His work, to draw others into His story, into His very self, His body, so that the world may know and encounter the Living God who enters into the messiness of our very human lives, of our struggles, our daily life and work.
He came from heaven to earth to transform us, and draw us into His Love and Life!