My mum and me went on a group tour to the Holy Land and we visited the places associated with Jesus’s birth – Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Cairo.
This post is a timeline of events leading to the birth of Jesus which is a sum of my journey and experiences with a few facts thrown in.
An Angel makes an announcement
Mary was around 15 years old and lived with her parents in Nazareth, Jerusalem.
On a usual day the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her that she would bear the Son of God.
Mary was astonished about this message, however she was brave to accept her destiny chosen by God.
In order to preserve the place where this important event occurred a Basilica was built known as The Basilica of The Annunciation.
The Basilica is an imposing limestone structure with a dome at the pinnacle.The facade has a lot of Christian symbols and motifs carved into the walls.
- Christian symbols
- The cave where Mary lived is seen here which is now part of the Basilica
- Front door of the church depicting the life of Jesus
- The Basilica at night
- Gallery of mosaics honoring Mother Mary donated by various countries around the world.
The event of the Annunciation occurred thousands of years ago but it can be seen and experienced even today.
Travelling to Bethlehem….
Being the birthplace of Jesus makes this small town a very significant place in the world.
Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, who was worried when he found out that Mary was with child. However an angel appeared in his dream and told him about Jesus, so now Joseph was relieved to take Mary as his wife.
Just before Jesus could be born, the Roman Emperor of that time, Augustus, announced a census and ordered everyone to go back to their hometown to pay their taxes.
Since Joseph’s family originally belonged to Bethlehem he and Mary had to travel from Nazareth where they currently lived to Bethlehem which is around 70 miles.
This is the arched entrance gate to Bethlehem. It is also known as the ‘Old Gate: Qoos Az-Zarara,’ which is apparently the Qoos (arch) through which Mary and Joseph entered Bethlehem, before Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Today this is a long winding narrow lane flanked by residences that leads us out of this gate to meet the old souq (market).
Silent Night, Holy Night….
Due to the census, Bethlehem was crowded. So Mary and Joseph could not find any place to stay for the night.
Joseph was worried as Mary was due and the night was cold.
Left with no options they reluctantly decided to go to a manger as time was running out.
Now a manger is a room below the house where people keep animals. This continues even today in many villages.
And in this simple manager was born the Son of God. He was laid on a bed of hay and wrapped in simple cotton sheets.
A church has been built over the place which marks the birth of Jesus known as The Church of the Nativity. It is one of the oldest churches in the world
It was beautiful sunny weather during our visit to the Church. Fortunately the place was not very crowded and we waited our turn patiently, filled with excitement.
After all you don’t get an opportunity every time to wish Jesus happy birthday personally 🙂
The Church of the Nativity has a crypt beneath—the Grotto of the Nativity where tradition states that Jesus of Nazareth was born.
We went below to the crypt and there I saw a silver star which marked the birthplace of Jesus. There was a priest standing near the Grotto who asked me to quickly bow and kiss the star.
After paying our respects we could stand a little away and pray.
The silver star bears the words “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” (Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary).
Our tour guide told us an interesting piece of information that struck me.
He mentioned that the 14 points represent the 14 generations of Jesus from Abraham to David. The star also represent the 14 stations of the cross walked by Jesus before being crucified.
We stayed in Bethlehem for 3 nights as we had numerous other religious sites to visit.
Bethlehem is a Palestinian town and I always imagined the place to be war torn, battered and deserted.
On the contrary the place was bustling like any small town with people going about their business.Not one day did we feel insecure or threatened.
Visiting the place where Jesus was born and getting to see and touch the silver star was one of the highlights of my journey.
We celebrated mass in the adjoining church of St Catherine where I had the good blessing of doing the reading.
The whole experience kept me on cloud 9 🙂
- Floor Mosaics, now preserved under wooden floor boards, dating back to the time of Constantine
- Reading during mass
- The plaque present at the Church of Nativity mentioning it as a UNESCO world heritage site
- The church’s bell tower
While Shepherd’s watched their flocks at night….
On the night that Jesus was born there appeared a bright star in the sky signifying His birth.
It was customary that Shepherds take their flock of sheep and goats to graze into the mountainside.
On seeing the star they realized that something important was going to occur / had occurred.
Then angels appeared and announced the birth of Jesus to them. They were joyful and went to Bethlehem to visit Jesus and pay their respects.
According to tradition, St. Helena built a convent at the site, which is today known as the shepherd’s cave aka Shepherd’s Field.
- Shepherds see the star
- Angels appear announcing the birth
- Shepherd’s Field aka Shepherd’s Cave
Three Wise Men Visit Jesus
The Magi also referred to as the (Three) Wise Men or (Three) Kings were, a group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold,frankincense and myrrh.
Encyclopædia Britannica states: “according to Western church tradition, Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India.” (The names of the three wise men)
The three gifts had a spiritual meaning: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.
Time to leave Bethlehem
There were many prophecies made about a Messiah coming to save men, centuries before Jesus came. The King during Jesus’ time was Herod who was an insecure man.
He was afraid that Jesus would change the course of the future and take his power away. So he ordered that all first born male children in Bethlehem to be killed.
To escape Herod, Mary and Joseph for a brief while took refuge in a place just outside Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt.
Today stands a church here known as Milk Grotto.
Legend says, when Mary was nursing Jesus, some drops of milk fell on the floor turning the red floor stone, milky white.
So if any lady is unable to bear children, she prays here and consumes a drink composed of a tiny bit of powder from the stones of the grotto, she usually conceives.
- An Angel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to flee to Egypt
- The holy family leaving Bethlehem
- Mary nursing baby Jesus
Fleeing to Egypt
Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt. They stayed there in hiding till the situation improved. The Holy Family Church in Cairo bears a few remains of the stay.
When things became better the holy family returned to Nazareth and Jesus grew to be a young boy cared dearly by his parents.
Visiting and staying in Palestine made a positive change in my perspective about the people and the region. This is the best part about travel.
Visiting the places associated with the birth of Jesus makes the celebration of Christmas more meaningful for me.
Merry Christmas 🎄🌟 😇 👑