My Christmas in Bethlehem

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It was 11 years ago this year that I spent Christmas in Bethlehem. It was a night I’ll never forget.

In 1993, I journeyed to the Holy Land to broadcast a special Christmas radio show back to the United States.

I did my show live from Manger Square describing the sights and sounds of pilgrims coming from all around the world to remember Christ’s birth.

I remember that there was a full moon over Bethlehem that night, and the temperature was rather chilly.

I had my topcoat on over my sport coat and still felt an occasional shiver.

Before the broadcast I joined a group of about 50 Protestant Christians from around the world who gathered in an enclosed courtyard of the Church of the Nativity for a special Christmas church service.

It was a brief devotional led by an Anglican clergyman who retold the ancient story of the miraculous birth of Jesus in this town so many years ago.

He spoke of the star, the wise men, Mary and Joseph and the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger just barely 40 feet away from where we were standing.

I’ll always remember the conclusion of the service when we all sang &uot;Silent Night, Holy Night&uot; while we stared at the dazzling star filled skies above. It was so majestic.

Then I joined the pilgrims for a personal tour of the manger scene. It is a cave preserved inside underneath the huge altar of the Church of the Nativity.

I had to descend a series of steps down to the cave below. When I got there, I saw a rather a dark cramped area draped in ancient tapestries, candles and marble.

I saw a small altar area with a silver star set in a marble covered floor. It marked the spot where tradition says Jesus was born.

A small cradle nestled in straw rested only a few feet away.

I admit I felt a tinge of awe when I saw all of this for the first time. I was speechless for once.

The pilgrims with me reacted in a flood of emotions. Some wept, some quietly sang, but all prayed.

Modern life seemed to collide with ancient history and for a few minutes, time seemed to stop.

We had entered into the pages of the Bible to remember the Christmas story.

I wanted to just sit down and soak it all in, but I had to move on.

Hundreds of other pilgrims were standing in long lines upstairs for their brief moment to come down and worship.

I departed the ancient cave with a misty tear in my eye and greater faith in God than ever. The Bible had become alive in a way I had never expected.

I had come to Bethlehem like the wise men so many years before. They followed a star in the sky. I followed a story they left behind.

Both of us found what we were looking for. We found increased faith.

I found ample evidence to say that Jesus did indeed come to earth in the form of a small baby. A Savior had been born who is Christ the Lord.

I found evidence to say the Bible is true and that it can be trusted.

I found ample evidence to say that Jesus is the real reason for the season and the true meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

Hank Erwin serves as an Alabama state senator representing Shelby County. He resides with his wife in Montevallo