I sat at the giant wooden table that my dad had made to fit in my parents’ spacious kitchen area.  My mom had decorated the house beautifully for Christmas—large ornaments, holly, and hurricane candles.adorned the oversized table.  The babies were in bed, and I was grateful for some quiet time with my mom and dad.

I opened up the laptop and asked them if they would tell me again what it was like visiting the place of Jesus’s birth.  They had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year, and they both put their reading down immediately, eager to recall the special trip.

In Bethlehem, they explained, people used to live in caves with their animals until they had saved enough money to build a house on top of the cave.  A second story, an upper room, would also be put in for visiting guests and relatives.

Dad, having returned from his bedroom with a big stack of pictures, looked through them carefully, searching for pictures of the Church of the Nativity, which had been built right on top of the cave where Jesus had been born.

Mom continued.  “At the time of the census, the city was packed, and the inhabitants of Bethlehem either had their own families staying in their upper rooms or they had rented them out.  So when Joseph went door to door, there honestly was no room—no one was being mean.  Finally, someone let Joseph and Mary stay in their cave below with the animals for the night.”

Mom adjusted her glasses.  “I always thought the cave would have been ten feet from the door, but it must’ve been one hundred feet back from the opening of the cave.”  Being so deep the cave would have provided the Holy Family with protection at least from the elements.  “Mary was given privacy in the back where maybe she could’ve started a fire.”  Mom stopped and she and I both looked at each other and shook our heads.  “Could you imagine?” she asked.  No, no indeed—Our Lady had been such a trooper.

Dad had pulled out a picture of the place where Jesus was born.  “The spot where Christ was born is marked here by a big brass star, in what looks like a fireplace.  About six feet away is where the manger was.”  I looked at the photograph and was floored and so grateful that the faithful over the centuries had been so careful about honoring and remembering the exact place where those events had occurred.

It was all so ordinary and yet it was the stage for one of the most outrageous acts of divine Love in all of history.  What a beautiful God we have, being born in a cave, and what a beautiful identity we have in Him.  Come, baby Jesus, come and bring peace and true humility to our too-proud hearts that we might be freed to love only You this Christmastime.

Copyright 2011 Meg Matenaer