The Light Has a Name

Last January one of the many memorable experiences that took place on our trip to the Holy Land was a day spent in Bethlehem.  I recall the Prophet Micah’s reference to Bethlehem.  “As for you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah, though you are the least significant of Judah’s forces, one who is to be a ruler in Israel on my behalf will come out from you.  His origin is from remote times, from ancient day.” (Micah 5:2).  As the reader may well know, Matthew picks up Micah’s comment and quotes it in telling the story of the Wiseman (or Magi) in Matthew 2:6.  Both reference the supposed insignificance of Bethlehem.  Furthermore, Phillip Brooks’ great hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” quickly comes to mind in thinking about Bethlehem. I almost have to laugh.  The visitor to Bethlehem today encounters a bustling major urban city – an Arlington or Grapevine situated by Fort Worth.  Bethlehem is anything but quiet and little. Strangely enough (or is it perhaps not strange at all), it was there on our tour in bustling Bethlehem that I experienced an epiphany of sorts. We stepped of the street, ducked our heads and entered the famous Church of the Nativity.  The church was built over the site of the cave which is traditionally said to mark the stable where Jesus was born.  It was built by a Byzantine pilgrim in 327 A.D. and later rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in 565 A.D.  It is in so many ways a classic Byzantine place of worship.  Candles and incense settled us into hushed tones.  We slipped quietly into line and when down in to the cave where the birth is reported to have taken place. I confess, I didn’t find this part moving.  I know I should be more holy but as I knelt on the floor to pray it was hard not think, “Bless poor Mary!  This floor is hard!” The epiphany for me came as we climbed the stone steps and quietly gathered in the main body of the sanctuary.  With dignified respect, our guide began sharing information about the church and its history.  I stepped back on the edge of the group and gazed around.  There was a hushed quiet in the church.  A moment ago we were a bunch of jostling pilgrims.  Now we were contemplative. As we stood there, a beam of light broke through a clear window high on the opposite wall.  The printed word fails me as a medium to capture the moment.   The beam shown with remarkable brightness right on the altar.  It felt like a beam sent from God.  With my cell phone camera, I took the picture shown here. Holy Land 011 For me the symbolism was and still is (pun fully intended!) brilliant!  The Gospel of John says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light” (John 1:5).  Teaching in the Temple, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Daily I traverse busy streets in a modern city not unlike today’s Bethlehem.  This time of Advent preparation calls me to stop and reflect again on the light that shines in darkness.  That light has a name.  His name is Jesus the Christ! The story of the wise men from Matthew’s gospel speaks into my life again, and I, like them, see a star.  “When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”  I hope and pray that - like them - I too might kneel, pay homage and offer my gifts.