God's love for His creation and His everlasting love for us is portrayed throughout the Bible. Through His love, Jesus promises to redeem us from our state of sinfulness, restoring the relationship of mankind with God, which was lost in the Garden of Eden. Jesus, our Redeemer, was born 2000 years ago beginning the Christmas season.
Advent and Christmas is truly one of my favorite times of the year. The Messiah of Israel was promised and anticipated for centuries. This anticipation, and the humble, but glorious arrival of Jesus, is portrayed in the Bible and amplified in the wonderful Christmas carols and music from the early church to the present day. (listen to “Long Ago, Prophets Knew”)
It is so amazing: the realm of heaven entered into earthly time and space. This happened at the birth of Jesus and will happen again when He returns.
My name is Neva Handley. Before we were married, Dan and I were students in Jerusalem at the Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). On Christmas Eve in 1979, we walked from Jerusalem to Bethlehem (about 5 miles). It was a little chilly and along the way we passed fields with low stone walls where long ago shepherds were tending their sheep. We visited the Church of the Nativity and then walked back as twilight fell. What a beautiful walk (there were no check points in 1979). As darkness fell, we thought about those first century shepherds taking care of the new lambs. The unblemished, perfect lambs, that were designated for the temple sacrifices. Just over the hill in Bethlehem, Mary was laying Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in the manger.
Do you think this is how it happened? There was a hush in heaven and on earth at the moment the Baby Jesus gave His first cry. Then the heavens burst out with joy and the angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds and the angelic chorus filled the heavens. (listen to “Star Carol”)
Jewish people love to see and hear the Christian celebration of Christmas. They would go to Bethlehem to see the lights and activities. They can no longer do this, and instead many come to Christ Church in Jerusalem to celebrate and remember.
From 2013 to 2018 Dan and I served as volunteer coordinators at Christ Church Jerusalem. Christ Church is an Anglican outreach to the Jewish and Arab community of Jerusalem (and to tourists from all over the world). There is a coffee shop, guesthouse, Heritage Center, and Church. On Christmas Eve there was an open house from 6-10pm. The guest house, courtyard, and church were all decorated for Christmas with a beautiful tall tree in the dining room. The volunteers sang carols at the gate, inviting everyone in to freely sample hot soup, gingerbread cookies, and mulled wine. In the weeks before Christmas Eve, our group baked and decorated 3000 gingerbread cookies. Generally, 2000 to 3000 people came each year to see the decorations, have their picture taken in front of the tree, enjoy the food, and enter the church to listen to the continual Christmas carols.
The beautiful music is surely part of the beauty of this season. The carols portray different aspects of the story of Jesus and His birth. It was a wonderfully busy evening as we showed the love of the Messiah and prayed that the story of their Redeemer spoke to their hearts through the music.
The carols speak to us about Jesus’ birth, but also of His reason for coming. They invite us to be present in that Bethlehem stable. They put us on a chilly hillside with shepherds, awed by a magnificent multitude of angels worshiping our awesome God. They sing to us of God's everlasting love for us, that we should open our hearts to the message of our Messiah.
The last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem says:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
I hope that you will know the wonderful anticipation of the Baby in Bethlehem, and the continuing anticipation as we are once again waiting for Jesus. Listen to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Singing at the gate of Christ Church on Christmas Eve
Serving Soup, Cookies and Mulled Wine
Christ Church full of people on Christmas Eve