Today my family toured the Church of the Nativity in the city Bethlehem - one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The church allegedly exists on top off the cave in which Mary gave birth to Jesus. It has been sectioned off into three portions: a Catholic church, a Greek-Orthodox church, and an Armenian portion. The first church was constructed by Constantine in AD 327. It was destroyed. The second by Emperor Justinian I, sixth century AD. That was also destroyed. Franciscan monks formed the third in the 19th century AD. That church remains to this day and is host to swarms of tourists and holy pilgrimages everyday, year round. Apparently, three mass services occur in it daily. One mass service is hosted by each denomination during the early parts of the day and then the cave is opened up for tourists to view and pay homage to the “sacred” site. As with other sites for early Catholic relics, many people today still make pilgrimages to see the pronounced location of Christ’s birth.
As our tour guide pointed out with historical authority the cave that held the manger, I could not help but think that the others and I were being told something that we may have wanted to hear. Although it is clear the historicity of Christ’s existence is not contingent on Him having been born in that spot, but rather on him having been born at all, everyone there wanted to acknowledge it as the spot. Perhaps the acknowledgement would bring further substance to a faith that tends to be highly criticized by a scholastic outlook that depends heavily on factual evidence to account for anything. Or maybe that was just my predisposition.
Concerning historical fact, Constantine built the first church there based upon traditional oral and documented reports that suggested Christ’s birth was there. Unfortunately (perhaps), such tradition may not present itself as founded on hard evidence. In order to obtain proper historical evidence, one must consult a primary source on the matter. An extra-biblical source within one hundred years of the event that points to an exact location does not exist. Therefore a person may only arouse, at best, a supposition that Mary the mother of Jesus intentionally took Christ’s followers to the place where it all “began.” Possible? Yes. Historical? Not so much. Furthermore, changing tracks, modern scholarship shows that a thorough interpretation of the Gospel’s nativity story, along with an enhanced understanding of ancient Bethlehem, suggests Christ’s “cave” may have been in the living room of an ancient Hebrew house. That puts a spin on things!
In light of these thoughts, as I walked through a church containing so much interesting and conflicting history, I found myself in a spirit of intellect rather than awe. Don’t get me wrong. I told the Lord that I honored Him and His birth (implications of a humble beginning for the God-Man). But I was not swayed by social pressure to enter into the spirit of the place – or by the enticing icons that lined the walls and traditional alters which filled the area. Stepping down into the “cave,” I watched person after person bow to the ground in order to touch the silver star representing the exact spot where He lay… I wasn’t feeling it. Maybe I had reasonable doubts. Maybe educated ones. Regardless, I wanted to be provoked to real worship. The kind that drew me into an awe so great for the person of Christ Jesus that I could not help but become transformed into His likeness. Touching a silver star was not going to do that. Touching the Man would. And I can’t say I had touched Him yet, today. Not when shortly before entering the church I instigated a hurtful argument with a member of my family - my own selfishness being the cause of it.
The more I thought about it, I realized that it would be very convenient if this was undeniably the spot where Christ was brought into the world. Such a place would in some way legitimize the faith I so often doubt in response to the great fight between my flesh and the Spirit. But would it really? Or would it allow my flesh to glory and grope for something that may or may not actually be related to the Spirit of Christ, love. The point is not that I may obtain a deeper connection to the things Christ was acquainted with - the places he went, people he cherished, and things that he touched; but that I may know Him, in the sufferings of His death and the power of His resurrection.
Jesus, thank you for taking on flesh. Thank You for humbly being born. Thank You.
@2 years ago with 1 note
I sat down at a table in Starbucks the other night. Across from me sat a theologian and next to me a Florida Southern student. Both strangers - but not for very long. As I pulled out my work, the student turned and introduced herself. We began a conversation inspired by her intense curiosity about world religions. She had visited a local church that morning for the first time since her childhood, and she wanted to know what was so very special and distinct about Christianity from that of other religions such as Buddhism. Well, I suppose I could have broken down Buddhism and pointed out elements in it that are blatantly unappealing to me, and to anyone. But instead I had this inward urge to focus the conversation on the person of Jesus.
Jesus. He is absolutely stunning. As I shared Him with her I became more and more convinced that He truly does sell Himself… All I had to do to convince my new friend of Christianity and to motivate her to continue going to church was talk about the absolute splendor of Jesus, the epicenter of our faith, the God-Man. My new friend’s eyes lit up as I discussed His unique life and character. And when I finished she told me, “You know, this is crazy. I prayed this morning in church that I would have someone to talk about this stuff with and help me find answers. And I think God answered my prayer tonight!” (YEAH!) As it turns out, the theologian who was intently working across from me had been praying for our conversation the whole time. I talked with him after and found out he was one cool dude.
Jesus showed up to me that night. And my heart burned…
… Who is He? I think Napoleon says it best.
“Emperor” to EMPEROR: “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity…” Napoleon Bonaparte, 18th century emperor of France.
Napoleon expressed the following thoughts while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, “Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?” The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered:
“Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him… . I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man… . I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me … but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts… . Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man’s creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.”
God, you are so mysterious. Altogether unknowable, and yet you love to make yourself known. You took on flesh. I like it
@2 years ago