Rev. Martha Ognibene
So there were the shepherds: huddled or sprawled in their cave with the sheep, trying to doze on the hard floor, wrapped in the warmth and the scratchiness and the smell of their flock, in the still of the middle of the night, in the dark, in the dark…and then suddenly, there was light!
A multitude of the heavenly host appeared in the sky, and they were singing, and they were rejoicing, and they were proclaiming good news of great joy, and they filled the sky and the field and the cave and the shepherds with light! As the shepherds returned to their cave in the field, after they had seen the baby Jesus with his mother and his father, they knew that the darkness would never be quite as dark to them again, for they had seen the glorious light.
So there was Mary, and there was Joseph: huddled frightened and tense in their cave with their fears. Mary had never given birth before; Joseph had never seen a woman give birth before; their families were far away and their setting was far from ideal: a rock floor for a bed in a strange locale, in the middle of the night, in the dark, in the dark…and then suddenly, there was the baby! Jesus was here! And he was healthy and perfect and tiny and warm, and he filled Mary and Joseph’s hearts with light. As Mary held her child, and as she showed him off to the shepherds who arrived with their strange, beautiful story of angels and good news, she knew that the darkness would never be quite as dark to her again, for she had been gifted with the glorious light.
So there were the Magi, who saw the light of the star…and the blind man, who saw the light of day when Jesus opened his eyes…and the women who saw two angels in dazzling clothes of light in the empty tomb on Easter morning…and Saul, the Christian-killer, who was knocked off his feet by a light from heaven that flashed around him and converted him and turned him into Paul, the Apostle…and the millions of persons, down through the centuries, who “saw the light” and followed our Lord in their lives from that moment on…and all of these, as they lived in the Kingdom of God come to earth, knew that the darkness would never be quite as dark again, for they had received the light of Jesus.
So now there’s us: huddled or sprawled in our caves, in the dark, in the dark. We have our troubles; we have our doubts; we have our fears. But look up, for the light of heaven is shining above us. And look around, because there are brothers and sisters on the journey with us who can direct us to the light, and reflect to us the light, and help draw the light from us to shine for others. And look within, because Jesus Christ, who was born into our world, waits to be born into your heart as well. And once that happens, the darkness you carry will never be quite as dark again, for Christ will dwell with you in glorious light.
Rev. Randy Mitchell
Glory in the Cave
As I sat in the cave where millions have sat over the millennium, my mind drifted back to the promise of the prophet. Could it be true? Am I where the herold Angel appeared? The odor of the sheep and goats have long gone. The ceiling blackened by countless candles burnt in worship services but the words still rang in my heart: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”
When the first evangel spoke to the shepherds that had gathered their flocks into the cave for protection from wolves and lions of the wilderness, did these words resound in the hearts of the shepherds that heard the greatest message ever received: "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Did they remember the promise or were they too terrified?
The shepherds gathered in another cave, directed by the star, to tell Mary what they had seen and heard. The poorest of the poor stood in the presence of the One that was promised 600 years before. They were humble yet excited to carry the same Good News we receive every day when we pray in the name of Jesus, the King, our Savior. In this season when we pull ourselves away from the commercialization in celebration of that one night so long ago, remember the poor, humble shepherds that knelt in the entrance to the cave to protect their flocks. Their message should ring in our hearts and be shouted from our lips that Jesus Christ is born! Amen.
Prayer: O Lord, I come before you in humility asking to see the light shine in the heavens and hear the message of Good News once again. Let me give that same message of hope to those who cower in the darkness of the world. Let my light shine to those in need, from the poorest of the poor to the wealthiest, and bring them the true meaning of the day. Amen.
David Donathan leads singing in the Cave at Shepherd's Field.
Rev. Shannon Blosser
Beverly Hills UMC
I remember my first experience in Bethlehem. I was there on my own, part of a smaller group of people from other churches, and it had already been a memorable trip. Not just because we were walking where Jesus walked, but also because I had received a stress fracture after the flight to Israel.
We parked the bus in the garage and made our way up to the hill to the Church of the Nativity. In my case, it was a slow trek up the hill and towards the church.
We passed people who were trying to sell us things. We passed billboards that called for travelers to “Pray for Palestine.” We saw police, fully armed, walking through Manger Square.
And, then, we entered the church where we saw the sight where we believe Jesus was born more than 2,000 years ago. It is designated by a star designed into the cave’s rock, while covered by lamps, candles, and other religious icons. It is a simple and holy site, but a powerful one as well. There, at that place, perhaps on that rock, God entered the world as a baby.
I cannot help but think of the stark contrast of what we saw on the outside towards what we felt as we walked into that holy space. It was a similar feeling that I felt when I went back to Israel in February, this time leading a group of people from a previous church. This was the spot where peace entered the world. In a world filled with violence, disruptions, and political unrest, there was a child born who would be known as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, CEB)
Those words are not just names that we announce on Christmas Eve to remind us of who Jesus is in our lives. They are the words of God’s promise to bring newness of life and creation through this child born in a lowly cave stable. Jesus came to bring peace, to be a counselor, to point us to the Father’s love for all. He came to bring a renewed sense of hope into the world.
We were able to touch that sacred spot during our visits. You would bend down into the opening to touch the cave. (A word to the wise, don’t turn your back on the site when you visit as you are trying to make your way back up. You will get scolded for it … trust me.) In that moment, you get a deep sense of God’s presence and feel the Lord’s peace.
But, I wonder how we might touch the presence of God in our own time and place? We don’t have to go far to see the contrast of Jesus’ very name and a world that is divided, torn apart, and broken. We see that in our homes, our communities, and across our nation. Perhaps we need to remember that God’s peace is available in the times of division we experience through the very life of the Christ child. Perhaps, as well, we need to be a witness of the peace of God through our words, actions, and deeds that offer God’s hope and new creation in the midst of chaotic times.
This Christmas, may we celebrate the birth of Christ by touching his presence in remembrance of Jesus’ birth and sharing his peace by how we live each day.