Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 20, 2018

Exploring Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem is one of the most beloved and well-known Christmas carols. The carol was written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian priest from Philadelphia. Brooks visited Bethlehem in 1865 and wrote the words to the carol three years later for the children of his church to sing at their annual Christmas program. Today, Brooks’ carol is enjoyed by people all over the world.

Bethlehem was known as “the city of David” (Luke 2:4). The name Bethlehem means “house of bread” and is located only a few miles from Jerusalem. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Micah prophesied that the Messiah, a descendant of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Because of its significance in the biblical narrative, our students spent a day exploring Bethlehem on our recent trip to the Holy Land.

The Church of the Nativity | The Church of the Nativity was built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus. Guests must enter the church through a very low door called the Door of Humility. This door was created in Ottoman times to force even the most important visitor to bow low as he entered this holy place.

We reviewed the story of Jesus’ birth at the Church of the Nativity. The traditional site of His birthplace is enshrined in the grotto beneath the choir area of the church. Jesus was not born in this building but in the cave it enshrines, a place where animals were once kept. “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son…” (Gal. 4:4) who “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7) and was born in the most unlikely of places and laid “in a manger,” a feeding trough for animals (Luke 2:7)

The Shepherds’ Field | The good news of Jesus’ birth was first announced to poor Jewish shepherds (Luke 2:8-10). This is significant because shepherds in Jesus’ day were regarded as social outcasts and were among the most scorned individuals. Their work made them ceremonially unclean and kept them from participating in the religious life of the community.

While visiting the site of the Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, our guide reminded us that God chose ordinary shepherds, not priests or kings, to be the first to hear the news of His Son’s birth. And, common shepherds would be the first to welcome Jesus — the Lamb of God. These ordinary men could not keep silent about what they had seen and heard and unwittingly became the world’s first evangelists. Their first priority after seeing Jesus was to spread the news about Him. We should do the same.

The Herodium | The Herodium is a fortress-palace built by Herod on top of the highest real estate in the area. We hiked to the top of the hill to look at the ruins of this once-great palace. The Herodium is an active archaeological site where workers are painstakingly working to peel back the layers of history.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Herodium was one of the largest and most luxurious palaces in the world. Herod spared no expense to build the biggest and the best on the highest mountain so that the world would know there is a Herod. Today, the Herodium and all of Herod’s palaces and fortresses lie in ruins. Herod is remembered as the megalomaniac who became paranoid and killed many people, including babies (Matt. 2:16-18), in an effort to maintain his power.

Herod had wealth and lavish palaces in which to dine and sleep, but Jesus had “no place to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Jesus did not leave a legacy of palaces or architectural accomplishments. Instead, He left something much more lasting. And, what Herod the Great feared (Matt. 2:3) came to pass. The baby born in Bethlehem beneath the shadow of his palace became a greater king than him and changed the world forever.


  1. As always, Omar, I hang in every word of your blog. I am so excited that my grandsons will have the opportunity to do this trip in the coming years. (Carter and Elijah Debor). If you ever need a chaperone, I’m your gal. My two trips to Kolkata were life changing events.

    • Thanks, Cheryl. Plans are to continue taking our graduating seniors to Israel for the foreseeable future. This first trip was amazing and affirmed the value of a trip focused on gaining insight about where our worldview originated. This trip will indeed be a blessing to Carter and Elijah.

  2. Omar, I agree. And you are not only impacting my life with your words of insight and wisdom, but the lives of the students with you, those to come, the church body and everyone that meets you or reads your marvelous blog. This “real world” example of how Herod lived his life compared to Christ, and the ultimate result, is not only truth, but illuminates in a very real way the reason we are instructed to build our treasure in heaven. Thanks for blessing us with this wonderful message!!!

    • Thanks, Rush. Grateful for your kind words and friendship.

  3. Thanks for taking us on your journey! I can only imagine what it must be like to actually be there! Your blog is the next best thing. 🙂

    • Thanks, Mary. Appreciate you following our journey 🙂

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