By Dr. Randall Smith
Courtesy of Christian Travel Study Programs, Ltd.

Situated in the mountains just south of Jerusalem, Bethlehem has played a pivotal role in history. Nearby, the matriarch Rachel is buried and her tomb is a pilgrimage site to this day. To Bethlehem, Ruth the Moabitess comforted her mother-in-law Naomi with the words, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” [Ruth 1:16].
Ruth married Boaz of Bethlehem, redeeming Naomi?s family inheritance.

Sometime later, The Lord had rejected Saul as King over Israel.

And “the Lord said to Samuel: ?How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king?” [1 Samuel 16:5].

Samuel journeyed to Bethlehem and finally anointed the eighth son of Jesse.

Micah the prophet had promised, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel. All the population was told to register in the cities where they had been born. The Gospel according to Luke says that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census while she was “great with child. “Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem where Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable, and placed him in a manger.

Shepherds were guarding their flocks in the fields at the edge of Bethlehem. That night angels appeared to the shepherds.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…and…the angel said to them, ?”I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.?” [Luke 2:9-12].

At the beginning of the 4th century, Queen Helena and Emperor Constantine of Byzantium ordered construction of a beautiful basilica over a place thought to be the place Jesus was born. Restored by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, this is the only ancient church in the land that retains its original shape.

From Manger Square outside of the sanctuary the church looks like a massive fortress. Though the actual place of he birth is not certain inside the Grotto of the Manger a large Silver Star placed there in 1717 commemorates a place to recall where Jesus was born. This is one of the most sacred sites in Christianity and pilgrims flock here for worship and as well as the singing of Christmas carols.

© Christian Travel Study Programs, Ltd.