How far is it to Bethlehem? (Not very far…)
…as our group of MWiB pilgrims approached Bethlehem by coach in November we tried to sing this old carol – but, although the first line is so memorable, the remainder of the words proved more elusive! Today, as I rise on the last of the Nine Mornings Bethlehem feels very close, and my mind is making the journey to where pilgrims from around the world will be gathering in Manger Square. No, it may not be the precise location of the birth of Jesus, just as 25th December is very unlikely to have been the precise date of that event, but there is something exciting (and profound too) about focusing our celebrations. At the heart of the story of our faith lies the truth that God came amongst us – not only as an Unknowable Presence, a Divine Spirit, a Transcendent Creator, but also as Love Incarnate, as a human being, born at a certain time, in a certain place, rooting our faith firmly in history and geography.
Arriving in Bethlehem by coach, we were taken to the large underground car park, and I noticed this sign as we made our way to the sacred sites. Amidst the adverts, the religious souvenirs (and tat!), the fast food outlets and Middle Eastern equivalent of “pound shops” we followed the signs to the Church of the Nativity (via the escalators)! It’s a great parable somehow; swamped as we can be with all the commercialism and sheer busy-ness of Christmas, can we too find our way through it all to discover the manger?
In the Caribbean I always rose especially early on Christmas Eve to do what still needed to be done before the day became too hot. I vividly remember sweeping our huge yard in Morne Jaloux, Grenada at sunrise, whilst Moses, our “guard dog” joyfully barked and ran rings round me. No fear here in Glasgow today that the temperatures are going to rise to uncomfortable heights – it appears to be dark, cold and wet as I peep between the curtains. But the sun will rise, the day will break (and will be a couple of minutes longer than yesterday), Christ will be born – in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, in Glasgow’s George Square, in Anniesland’s new basement church, where we will worship at 11am, in every church celebrating today, and in many, many more places too. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.
Enter then, O Christ most holy, make a Christmas in my heart;
make a heaven of my manger, it is heaven where thou art.
(George Stringer Rowe)