When I first visited the “other” Bethlehem (the one where Jesus was born!), we first visited the Church of the Nativity, which marks the traditional spot where Jesus was born. The church sits at one end of a large public area called, fittingly, Manger Square. I remember going in the church and waiting in line to see the shrine that marks the precise location where the manger was thought to be. As I waited, a group of German pilgrims came into the church and began singing Silent Night in four-part harmony (and in the original German). As their voices rang through the church, an attendant hurried over to the group and began hissing in English to them, “Stop that! No singing! You must be silent in the church!”

That basically set the tone for my experience there at the church: everything felt very controlled and a bit distant; even the spot marking the manger was brick and stone, and looked more like a fireplace than anything else. Disappointed, I filed out of the church and we left the center of town and headed to one of the two traditional sites for the Shepherd’s Field in the hills that surround Bethlehem. We came around a corner and suddenly stopped: a local man and his son, carrying staffs, were ushering a flock of sheep down one of the hills and across the road. We waited several minutes, then finally the man waved and stepped off the road, sitting on a small rock as he watched his flock settle into a new grazing area. That moment, more than anything else in Bethlehem, made the reality of where I was come alive: this was the exact same area where shepherds were surprised by the heavenly host as they kept watch over their flocks.

As we observe the end of Advent and celebrate the coming of Christ on Christmas Eve, we are offering a number of different opportunities in our church life that help you experience the reality of the Christmas story once more. This Sunday at 10 AM in Fellowship Hall, we will have a special offering from some of our children telling the story of that famous German carol, Silent Night, and why it has become so beloved across the world.

And on Monday, there will be three different candlelight Christmas Eve services: an Intergenerational Service at 5 PM, with traditional and contemporary music selection, including our new Handbell Choir; a classic traditional Christmas Eve Candlelight service at 7:30 PM with our Chancel Choir and the Hill to Hill Brass; and a more contemplative Candlelight Communion Service at 11 PM. Whatever choices you make, I hope that you will find yourself in the very heart of the good news of Christ’s birth, and that you have a very joyful and blessed Christmas.

Grace and Peace,