THE REALITY OF THE NATIVITY SCENE

Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition – Module 2

by Johann Quisumbing

Click here to go to Module 1

Welcome to Module 2 of the Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition. Here, we will continue to follow the Christmas timeline. We will take a better look at familiar holiday scenes that we grew up with and explore the unadulterated version based only on what the Bible describes. We will also cover the darkest part of the Christmas story, however, I promise that we will end the tour with a joyful scene.

When I mention Nativity, what images come to your mind?

In every Nativity display I have ever seen whether on top of a building, a public square display, in a school/church production and even as miniatures on your own table top, we will always find the Holy family in a humble stable flanked by shepherds on one side and the wise men on the other; at least a cow, a donkey and a few sheep here and there; and an angel as well as the star of Bethlehem. I grew up with this display and I even collected miniatures of the nativity.

It is very interesting to note that tradition’s version of this event was established not back in 1AD. Believe it or not, Christmas was not celebrated by early Christians. You can almost say that the first Christmas celebration was celebrated in 1223 AD led by St. Francis of Assisi, according to legends, of course.

1: FRANCIS OF ASSISI

Francis of Assisi, originally known as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, was a mystic Italian Catholic friar. He founded the Franciscan Order, and was one of the most venerated figures in Medieval Christianity. He was inspired to lead a life of poverty and itinerant preaching. Pope Gregory the 9th canonized him in 1228. He was usually depicted in a brown homespun robe with a rope as a belt.

Link 1 – SANTUARIO DI GRECCIO

Welcome to Santuario di Greccio, a mountainous area in the heart of Italy. Francis of Assisi longed to do something to help the people of nearby small Italian town of Greccio to feel close to the infant Jesus who was born for them in a stable in Bethlehem. The Saint knew these good folks would never have a chance to visit the Holy Land so he wanted to  make the Nativity a real and personal experience for the faithful.

Before this church was built, in this spot was an open cave where Francis of Assisi orchestrated his Christmas tableau. 

Link 2 – CAVE CHAPEL

Witness the singular Christmas in the mountains, which Francis wanted to celebrate in Greccio – a place so dear to him – on December 25, 1223. To Giovanni Velita, lord of Greccio, Francesco said: “you have had a manger placed with hay and brought you an ox and a donkey just as they were in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve I will come up there and, all together, we will pray in the grotto ”.

Christmas Eve arrives: everything is ready in the cave. The nativity scene and a small altar. It was as if Bethlehem, that year, had taken itself to the top of the mountain of Greccio. The priest began the Christmas Mass. Francis sang the Gospel.

The culmination of the celebration: Francis took in his arms that child placed on the hay who, by the faith of Francis, seemed to come to life and be reborn in the hearts of those present.  [www.santuarivallesanta.com]

I must admit that I had always found all those Nativity pageant versions quite magical but were they biblical? I mean, was it presented the way the Lord God intended? Let us see…

2: THE RIDE, THE INN & THE STABLE

So, we pick up the Christmas story where we stopped in Module 1. Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem. Let us eliminate a myth right now – a very pregnant Mary riding on a donkey. 

Now Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was betrothed to him, and was pregnant.  (Luke 2:4,5)

The verses above only narrated the journey of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem with no other clear description on what was their mode of transportation or the conditions of the journey. It may be that they did travel by donkey as tradition suggests. Afterall, this was a common way of traveling at the time and donkeys were popular among all classes of people. However, there are other considerations found in Scripture that may add to their journey story.

Nazareth is found in the region of Galilee which is about 60 miles as the crow flies to Bethlehem. At most traveling there by donkey using the established roads would take about 2 days. But Joseph and Mary being Jews were faced with a more arduous journey. Why? Let’s look at this map of Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Joseph and Mary could not take the shorter and more direct route because to do so, they would have to travel through the region of Samaria. Jews avoid traveling through Samaritan territory. Why? The people of Samaria were hated by the Jews. [To fully understand the enmity between these two people, you can open your Bible in several books of the Old Testament.]

So, what would be their route? As Jews, they would have skirted the Samaritan territory by taking the much longer and risky route. This would mean at least a week’s journey time through a hazardous country. To give you an idea of the environs that they went through, take a look at the link below.

Link 3 – JORDAN RIVER VALLEY

Considering this, I really doubted that Mary could have ridden on the bony back of an ass 20 miles a day for a week or so. More than likely, she rode on a cart accompanied with other folks making the same trek to Judea.

So, they arrived at Bethlehem.

Link 4 – CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY [exterior]

Welcome to the plaza just outside the Church or Basilica of the Nativity. This basilica is located in the center of Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestine. This place holds a prominent religious significance to Christians of various denominations as the birthplace of Jesus.

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  (Luke 2:6-7)

In all the stories told, Mary and Joseph always arrived in desperation to find lodgings because of extreme labor pains. But if you consider closely the words of Luke 2:6, ‘While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.’ I believe that what was implied was that they were already in Bethlehem for at least a day or so and that they were already lodged. 

What about that there was no room for them in the inn (v7)? In modern way of thinking, an Inn is a country hotel, in the business to rent out rooms. But in first century Bethlehem, the inn just meant a lodging place or a spare room. Besides Joseph, who was born there, would not have to rent a room because culturally he would have stayed with family. But because of the census, Joseph’s ancestral home would have been already crowded with kin including the spare room which would have been located on the second floor.

Link 5 – CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY [interior]

Link 6 – GROTTO

The Nativity Grotto is thought to be the cave in which Jesus was born. Around AD 248, Greek philosopher Origen of Alexandria wrote the following about the grotto:

In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshiped and revered by the Christians.  [wikipedia.com]

Such as tradition believes but was Jesus really born in a stable? 

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  (Luke 2:7)

Of course, people got the idea of the stable mainly because the baby was laid in a manger. Tradition was half right. Where the Bible only offered conjecture, archaeology may shed some light.

Based on archaeological digs in Bethlehem, the average houses looked almost like the image below.

Most Judean houses had two levels. The upper level comprised of an open area where the household would sleep under the stars during hot nights and an extra room (aka the inn) reserved for guests. The main floor is divided into two areas. The entire family occupied an elevated living area 3 feet off the ground where they did chores, supped and slept. The living area was about two-thirds of the ground level. The other third, that is the sunken area, was where animals like sheep were kept especially during the winters.

Because the upper room or inn and the main living were already occupied, Mary (with the help of a midwife & other household women) would have given birth in that lower level. She would have wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and placed Him in a stone manger just like below.


5 – SHEPHERDS

On that very same night, on the hills surrounding the sleeping village, were flocks of sheep tended by shepherds.

Link 7 – CHURCH OF SHEPHERDS FIELD

The Shepherds’ Field Chapel or the Sanctuary of the Gloria in excelsis Deo is a Roman Franciscan chapel built in 1953. Located in the area of Beit Sahour, southeast of Bethlehem, this chapel marks the place where, according to Catholic tradition, angels first announced the birth of Christ. It is known for biblical murals & topped by a glass dome & bronze angel.

Link 7a – CHURCH OF SHEPHERDS FIELD [PHOTOS]

Originally, this is one of two locations of the Annunciation to the shepherds. The other site is the Greek Orthodox Der El Rawat Chapel on the other side of the valley.

Link 8 – ORTHODOX CHURCH

Link 8a – ORTHODOX CHURCH [PHOTOS]

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And so the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.”

When the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  (LUKE 2:8-15)

Let us put one other myth aside. Tradition says that Jesus was born in December, that is, during winter time. December is the first month of winter in Bethlehem. Temperatures in Bethlehem can reach an average highs in the region of 57.2 degrees Fahrenheit (14 degrees Celsius) while the lows hover around 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). December is also the first month Bethlehem sees snow. That means that the sheep & shepherds would be in-doors than out in the fields. Bible scholars agree that Jesus may have been born around September.

Why would God send the angels to appear to shepherds? Why not the religious leaders of the day – the Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and Rabbis?

God has a history of using ordinary people and at times, even less than ordinary. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek (gentle), for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:3,5)

Shepherds can relate to being poor in spirit, for Jewish society considered them as having the lowest of jobs. Interestingly enough though, only the shepherd had the right skills and gentleness to raise unblemished lambs which were highly valued by the priests for sacrifices. It is no wonder that the Lord God trusted to them (whom society considered foolish) the sacred privilege to reveal the advent of the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world. 

…God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  (1 Corinthians 1:27)

6 – SIMEON & ANNA

According to tradition, as part of the Nativity pageantry, the Holy family had other important visitors besides the shepherds and they brought 3 significant gifts. In other words, all of the Christmas events occurred that same night of the birth. Again, was it all biblical? Apparently, NOT! 

God’s story shows us a lot more. Let us pick up the story in Jerusalem…

Link 9 – WESTERN STAIRCASE TO TEMPLE

You are standing at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. The name “Wailing Wall” or “Place of Weeping” stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD and the loss of national freedom it symbolized. The wall is in actuality an ancient limestone wall; a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient retaining wall, known also in its entirety as the “Western Wall”. It was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple begun by Herod the Great, which resulted in the encasement of the natural, steep hill known to Jews and Christians as the Temple Mount. 

And when the days for their purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “EVERY FIRSTBORN MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what has been stated in the Law of the Lord: “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG DOVES.” (Luke 2:22-24)

It is important to note that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph could not bring the baby Jesus to the temple until after 40 days, which was the required time of purification.

Do you see the covered walkway at the far end of the wall? It leads up to the mount. At the time of Jesus’ birth, some 2000 years ago, there was a grand stair-case that went up to the south-west corner of the Temple mount. It was so wide that 10 men-abreast could have climbed it. The holy family would have used these stairs and when they reached the top, the Lord God wanted them to meet 2 persons.

Link 10 – SOUTH-WESTERN CORNER OF TEMPLE MOUNT

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. e She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.   (Luke 2:25-38)

7 – THE MAGI 

Again… in every Nativity movie and Christmas Pageant I have seen, the Three Kings or Wise men from the East would arrive in their lumbering camels just right after Jesus’ birth in the stable. 

On the golden screens, they followed a visible and very bright star in the night sky. That same star would also send down a single ray of golden sparkling light to pinpoint the spot of where the babe was born. The movies always made it look so magical. That’s Hollywood for you. But what does the Bible really say?

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”  (Matthew 2:1-2)

Who were the magi from the east? To answer this, we go to the middle of modern day Iraq to where once existed an ancient city next to the great river Euphrates.

Link 11 – BABYLON

Welcome to where, once upon a time, stood the ancient city of Babylon. Babylon was the capital city of the ancient Babylonian Empire. What you see are the remains of the city are in present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad.

On 14 February 1978, Saddam Hussein began the “Archaeological Restoration of Babylon Project”: reconstructing features of the ancient city atop its ruins. These features included the Southern Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, with 250 rooms, five courtyards, and a 30-meter entrance arch. The project also reinforced the Processional Way, the Lion of Babylon, and an amphitheater constructed in the city’s Hellenistic era. In 1982, the government minted a set of seven coins displaying iconic features of Babylon. A Babylon International Festival was held in September 1987, and annually thereafter until 2002 (excepting 1990 and 1991), to showcase this work. The proposed reconstruction of the Hanging Gardens and the great ziggurat never took place. [wikipedia.com]

Why in Babylon? The obvious answer is that the wise men did come from the east and of course, Babylon is east of Jerusalem. But that is not the reason why we are starting here. In Matthew 2, we have to ask, how did they know to come to Jerusalem? How did they know about the King of the Jews? Well, the answer to that can be found in the Old Testament, especially when I researched the word magi or magician. The result eventually led me to the time of the Judean exiles in Babylon in the book of Daniel. The reigning king was the famed Nebuchadnezzar. In a nutshell, the Lord had orchestrated one of His chosen prophets, Daniel, to become the trusted minister to the Babylonian king. Daniel was strategically placed to head the court of the magi and he retained this position under several kings up to the Persian Empire. Scholars have speculated that the magi of the New Testament were more than likely descendants of that same order of wise men. 

Since the magi were meant to find the King of the Jews, then it is not hard to conclude that the Lord had installed in His plan a way for them to get guidance from the written word of the prophet Daniel. 

8 – THE STAR 

Do you remember the Christmas carol, “A Star, A Star… Shining in the Sky”.

The Bethlehem Star is represented in practically every Christmas decoration throughout the world. Just look at most Christmas trees and you’ll find at its crown a sparkling star. In nativities, you’ll find a star above. In the Philippines, the ornamental lantern parol which can be found outside every building and house represent the star of Bethlehem.

Some say that the Bethlehem Star was a comet or a distant supernova. There are many theories. But was there really a single star that the Magi followed?

Let’s go to…

Link 12 – MOUNTAINS OF PERSIA

This view is from an undisclosed location somewhere in the mountains of modern day Iran. I actually found this spot accidently. I chose it because if I was a first century Persian astronomer, then being in these mountains would give me the perfect way to study the signs in the stars. This would be their view.

Link 13 – STAR FIELD

And the Magi did read signs in the night sky. Guess who placed those signs in the heavens.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to distinguish between the day and the night, and let them be signs to mark the seasons and days and years. (Genesis 1:14)

The heavens tell of the glory of God; And their expanse declares the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.  (PSALM 19:1-3)

So, when the Magi of Jesus’ time read the signs in the night sky, they connected the signs to Daniel’s writings and understood the timing of the Messiah’s birth and the sign that would lead them to the place where He would be born.  So, months or even a year after Jesus was born, the Magi arrived in Judea. 

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.”

After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  (Matthew 2:2-10)

How did I know that the wise men were not following a bright star in the night sky?

Some may argue that the star they followed was visibly spectacular. All I can say is that the Bible says otherwise.

Look at the reaction of Herod in Matthew 2:3 when the magi asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (vs2).

vs3 – When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

If there was a comet or any cosmic spectacle in the night sky, Herod and his own wise men of Jerusalem would have taken heed. But instead he was quite surprised and troubled mainly more because they inquired about another King of the Jews.

I wish we could spend more time in exactly what the magi saw in the night sky. However, if you click on this Youtube video link: THE BETHLEHEM STAR where an astronomer will guide you on what the Magi actually saw in the night sky. I invite you to watch it. It will blow your mind away.

Meanwhile, let us get back to Bethlehem and pick up the story when the Magi left Jerusalem.

Link 14 – CHAPEL OF ST. CATHERINE

Chapel of Saint Catherine is a religious building that is affiliated with the Catholic Church and is located adjacent to the northern part of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank in the Palestinian territories. It works as a parish church and Franciscan monastery. Underneath this chapel is a complex of caves and ruins that may also mark the birthplace of Jesus. In the chapel is this beautiful stained glass window depicting the magi presenting their gifts to the King of kings.

And after they came into the house, they saw the Child with His mother Mary; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11)

Based on the Bible, when the Magi came before Jesus, he was not a baby anymore. The Greek word used for ‘Child’ here was PAIDION which means an infant between the age of 6 months and older. Clearly, upon their arrival, Joseph and Mary had upgraded their living situation from the animal pens to a house of their own. It made sense. The census would be over by then and the population of Bethlehem would decrease back to normal. Joseph decided to stay in Bethlehem and moved his family to an available house or he built one. Afterall, he was a carpenter and mason. Either way, they were in a house.

So, when the Magi laid their eyes on the Child Jesus, they being from the eastern kingdoms of Persia, Medes and Babylon prostrated themselves before someone considered as a Great One worthy of divine worship.

Gift of GOLD

In those days, Gold had the greatest monetary value among the rare elements of the earth and was mostly given exclusively to royalty. And Jesus is royal enough! Afterall, He is Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14).

Gift of FRANKINCENSE

What exactly is frankincense? It is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes. More importantly, it was the incense used by the priests of Israel in the Holy Temple. A few times in the year, a priest was chosen to enter ‘the Holy Place’, the biggest chamber of Israel’s Temple, to burn incense on the Altar of Incense as a way of presenting the prayers of the people to God. So, why did the Magi present frankincense?

Jesus is not just the King of kings, He is also the Priest of all priests (Zechariah 6:13; Hebrews 5:6).

Gift of MYRRH

Myrrh has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine. Its monetary value was high, but you have to wonder what is its connection to Jesus in this context? It will be interesting to note that as Jesus was being buried after his death on the cross, his body was prepared for burial with spices and myrrh.

Was Myrrh given to honor His death? Well, not so much his death but more to honor His sacrifice. Remember, He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

9 – HEROD 

We come to the hardest part of the Christmas story. It is rarely told around the Christmas tree for it depicts a dark event. But I believe it must be told. To do this, let us go to…

Link 15 – TOWER OF DAVID

Welcome to the Tower of David. It is the northeast tower of the Citadel of Jerusalem. Other towers named Phasael, Hippicus and Mariamne were situated in the northwest corner of the so-called First Wall, the Hasmonean and Herodian city wall protecting the Western Hill of Jerusalem. They were situated close to where the Jaffa Gate is today and were built by Herod the Great at the same time he built his immediately adjacent royal palace.

Link 16 – HEROD’S PALACE

Like in every story, there is always a BAD guy. In our Christmas story, the bad guy was Herod the Great.

Though Herod was king of Judea, he was not a Jew. He was actually a puppet-king of Rome. Herod was not loved by the Jews but he gained their grudging respect mostly because he renovated their Temple. One other thing about him was that he was extremely power hungry and not willing to share it. So, when the Magi from the east came looking for the new King of the Jews, the despot in him wanted Jesus dead and he’d do anything to get it done.

Now, the Magi found the Christ child and we will pick-up the story from here.

When it was time to leave, the Magi returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:12)

So, when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent his mercenary soldiers to kill all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. This horrendous event was actually foretold.

Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”  (Matthew 2:17-18)

Ramah, by the way, is the area of Bethlehem.

But God knew what was to come…

Now when they had gone, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.  (Matthew 2:13-14)

So, let’s get back to why I believe this part of the story should be told around the Christmas tree; yes… even to little kids. How can kids and adults really appreciate the light unless they realize that darkness affects them.

What Herod did was an aftereffect of the original sin. Our history is filled with it. We are constantly surrounded by the darkness of sin.

One thing about darkness though, it cannot stand up to light. For several years, that light… our hope was kept safe in Egypt.

Link 17 – RUINS OF ALEXANDRIA

Welcome to the ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria. This city was built on the coast of the Mediterranean and had a fair sized Jewish Quarter. The Bible is silent on where the Holy family hid in Egypt, however it can be speculated that they would easily find refuge here especially since they have financial means due to the gifts of the magi.

But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord *appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, “Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”  So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and settled in a city called Nazareth. This happened so that what was spoken through the prophets would be fulfilled: “He will be called a Nazarene.”  (Matthew 2:19-23)

That light grew and 33 years later, He said…

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Christmas Season is the time to show that the light of Jesus is there. All you have to do is walk in it. How?

B E L I E V E


SITES OF CHRISTMAS PROPHECIES CAME TO LIFE

Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition – Module 1

by Johann Quisumbing

Welcome to Module 1 of the Google Maps Tour of the Bible: Christmas Edition . During the Holy Week, a group of us picked up our virtual passports and went on a 7 itinerary modules of discovery and faith building. We vicariously traveled through time & space; journeyed to where Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Judges of old, David, the kings & the prophets, as well as Jesus Christ and those that faithfully followed had tread through the Land of the Bible. We did all this online and from the comforts of home. So, we covered the sites from the Old Testament to the New except that I purposely left out the places of the Advent story. Well, Christmas is just around the corner again. 

Are you ready for another adventure? 

Storytellers who tell the Christmas tale usually start either inside the Jerusalem Temple or in a quaint village home of a young Nazareth girl. But not us. Now, Christmas is supposed to be the story of the Advent of the Messiah or the Birth of the Savior. So, it is logical to ask…

Why do we need a SAVIOR? What is the MESSIAH saving us from?

This is where we begin our Christmas tour, not in Holy Land, but in a garden outside time and space.

1: EDEN

LINK 1 – Representation of the Garden of Eden

Welcome to the Botanic Garden in Rio de Janeiro. Of course, this is not the fabled Garden of Eden. I chose this venue because this garden was the closest representation that Google Maps provided. I want you to walk around for a couple of minutes or so. Look around and use your imagination and see Adam and Eve walking through a similar garden minus the pathways and other man made objects. The Garden of Eden was probably a million times beautiful than this place. But what really made Eden special was that it was where mankind had a very close relationship with God. With all the great things that were created, mankind was special to Him, after all He created us in His image and much more. 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)

So, in the beginning, we had it made. But then something went wrong. Mankind sinned.

You remember what caused Adam and Eve to fall out of Paradise. They fell because they disobeyed God’s one and only commandment.

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

They ate and sinned! When they did, something in them changed. Mankind was created to be with God, but now there is a chasm between those of mankind still in sin and God. But that is not the worst of the news. Because of that SIN, mankind has to face death! The first death is a separation of the physical body from the spiritual self (that is the soul). Then what comes next for those who die in SIN?

2: LAKE OF FIRE

And just as it is destined for people to die once, and after this comes judgment… (Hebrews 9:27)

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the FURY of a FIRE which will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26,27)

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:4)

Imagine being in that molten lake, not being consumed to oblivion but instead experiencing eternal torture and unquenchable regret. Yes, regret! All sinners will realize that they were meant to be with God and that they have foolishly rejected the only ONE who could have saved them.

That is the essence of the BAD NEWS. Now, let us look at the GOOD NEWS. 

God had implemented a great PLAN. In the Old Testament, God had set the stage for our salvation and left for us clues as proof of His intentions. They were called prophecies. And just before the coming of the Messiah, He prophesied the coming of a forerunner and a herald to point the way to the Savior.

3: GOD’S HERALD REVEALED

LINK 2 – JERUSALEM TEMPLE 

You are looking at a close-up of the beautiful scale model of the Jerusalem Temple. If you zoom out, you will see the entire model of the city which is about 22,000 square feet and is located at the Israel Museum about 2 miles west from its original location. Keep the Temple structure in your mind and let us go to the actual site about 2 miles east from here.

LINK 3 – DOME OF THE ROCK

Welcome to the Temple Mount. You are standing on what was once called the Court of the Gentiles. Before you is the Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock. Imagine the Temple structure laid out in that same spot. Imagine an old man in priestly robes approaching that Temple some 2000 years ago.

…there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7)

Does this sound familiar to the story of Abraham and Sarah? Well, it should. In the Bible, there are no coincidences. One of the Lord’s way of getting us to take notice is for us to recognize patterns in Scripture.

Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John.” (Luke 1:8-13)

What would be special about John?

“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.”

“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:14-17)

Luke’s phrase ‘TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN’ was not the first time these words were uttered.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and strike the land with complete destruction.”  (Malachi 4:5,6)

4: LEGITIMACY OF THE MESSIAH

If I were an enemy of God, I would make it a point in casting doubt on the credibility of Jesus of Nazareth. I’d especially challenge his messiahship. By the way, this is exactly what the Devil was doing even at Christmas time. But God who is by far wiser than all had already thought of this. Do you recall His Plan? Yes, ‘The Plan’ for our salvation. 

We already saw part of His plan come into fruition with the angel visiting Zecharias. The next stage was set in the northern village of Nazareth some 64 miles from Jerusalem…

Link 4 – CHURCH OF ANNUNCIATION

Welcome to the Church of Annunciation. It is a Catholic church in Nazareth, in northern Israel. If you look around, you’ll find on the perimeter walls enclosing the courtyard a gallery with icons (mainly colorful mosaics, some of which are made of ceramic tiles) representing some of the most important Marian devotions in different countries. Now, look at the main building. Inside is no ordinary church. Let us go in.

Link 5 – CHURCH OF ANNUNCIATION INTERIOR

As you look around, the church’s interior has 2 levels. You are standing in the upper level of the shrine. The lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. It was here that God had sent His angel.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  (Luke 1:26-28)

Why was Mary important? She was part of the Lord’s Plan.

But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:29-35)

Let’s talk about the virgin birth. First, it was planned…

… the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.  (Isaiah 7:14)

Second, it was crucial for our salvation. How?

Let’s understand that God had set only one way for mankind to avoid eternal damnation. Since, it was a man that brought Sin then it should be a man to pay for it through sacrifice of life. The problem is that the one who is to be sacrificed must be completely without Sin, but every human born of man and woman was born in sin. This is why we are not qualified to pay for the penalty of sin.

But then Jesus, on the other hand, was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is without SIN!

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  (1 John 3:5)

Why would God choose Mary, of all people?

As part of God’s intricate plan, He had chosen a specific family… a family line that went from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah then many generations later to a shepherd boy who slew a giant and became the greatest king of Israel. Of course, we’re talking about King David. 

Now, we already know that Joseph was a descendant of David. But he is not the true father of Jesus. Some may question Jesus’ legitimacy by this. Of course, God’s Plan covered this.

Let us look at both Mary’s and Joseph’s genealogy.

5: MARY VISITS ELIZABETH

As soon as Mary received the news that her cousin, Elizabeth, was miraculously pregnant for 6 months, she convinced her parents that she should visit Elizabeth & Zechariah at their home in a mountain village just 5 miles southeast from Jerusalem.

Link 6 – AERIAL VIEW OF CAREM

This is an aerial view of Carem. There is a stream that runs through the village hence the Hebrew name Ain Karem which translates “Spring of the Vineyard” or the “Spring of Carem”. Now, there are 3 churches in the village from different denominations. According to tradition, one of them was built over the remnants of the home of Elizabeth & Zechariah.

Link 7 – CHURCH OF VISITATION

Luke 1:39-45

A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” 

Link 7a – Google Map Photos of Mary’s Spring

Mary’s Song: The Magnificat

And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

“For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.

“For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name.

“And His mercy is to generation after generation toward those who fear Him.  (Luke 1:46-50)

Three months later, Elizabeth gave birth to God’s Herald. His name was John the Baptist. 

Since we are in the neighborhood, as a bonus, let us take a quick visit to the site where John the Baptist grew up as a hermit.

Link 8 – ST JOHN IN THE WILDERNESS MONASTERY

The monastery, which is over a mile away from where he was born, commemorates the “wilderness” in which John the Baptist lived as an orphaned child and throughout the years which prepared him for public ministry.

6: JOSEPH’S DECISION

After John’s birth, Mary, who was 3 months pregnant, returned to Nazareth. When she got there, God’s Plan seemed to be in danger of being derailed.

…Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18)

Near the Church of Annunciation at Nazareth is a chapel dedicated to Joseph. Let’s go there, shall we?

Link 9 – ST. JOSEPH’S CHURCH

Mary was found to be with child but it was not Joseph’s. If the conception by the Holy Spirit is not believed, people can only conclude that Mary was unfaithful and cheated on Joseph. Mary was already 3 months pregnant and obviously showing. This was a problem for her, the unborn Messiah and God’s plan.

How?

If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)

According to the Law, Mary could have been stoned to death. However…

And Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.  (Matthew 1:19)

But sending her away was not God’s will.

But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”  

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife…  (Matthew 1:20-25)

7: GOD’S WILL BE DONE 

Imagine, if you will, God going over His checklist of things that are done and things yet to be done.

  • Sent angel to Zecharias.
  • Blessed a barren woman named Elizabeth to become pregnant in her old age.
  • Indwelled the child of Zecharias & Elizabeth with His Holy Spirit while still in the womb.
  • Sent angel to Mary.
  • Conception in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.
  • Sent a dream to Joseph to protect Mary and unborn child.

Then God looks at the next item to be checked, but then He pauses for the next item that was supposed to happen.

  • Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”  (Micah 5:2)

But there was a problem! Mary and Joseph were still in the northern village of Nazareth. Bethlehem, on the other hand, is located far to the south; about 3-4 days of arduous traveling time. Not too safe for a woman to travel in her second trimester. 

So, what is the problem if Jesus is born in Nazareth? What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the Lord God declared that he was to be born in Bethlehem. Scriptures can not be rewritten. So, what was to be done?

In truth, God saw all this before it ever happened. His solution was to use a most unlikely person, the emperor of Rome. So, let’s go to Rome which is about 1,400 miles from Nazareth.

Link 10 – TRAJAN FORUM, ROME

Welcome to Rome. What are we doing here at the Trajan Forum? Well, we are here looking for a particular emperor. Did you see the statue? That is the statue of Caesar Augustus, also known as Gaius Octavian. He was officially the first Roman emperor who reigned from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. And his maternal great-uncle was Julius Caesar. Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir; as a result, he inherited Caesar’s name, estate, and the loyalty of his legions which guaranteed his ascension to the throne. 

What did this emperor do exactly?

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city.    (Luke 2:1-3)

By the way, the census was not his idea. 

For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations.  (Psalm 22:28)

So, meanwhile…

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.   (Luke 2:4-5)

And so we come to the final site of our Module 1 tour. 

8: GOD WITH US 

Welcome to modern day… 

Link 11 – BETHLEHEM

You are standing on a narrow street called Maggid Mezritch. If you go east, this narrow street will open up onto a wide plaza next to a very popular church. 

Link 12 – MANGER SQUARE

Every year, except during Covid, this plaza in Bethlehem gets geared up for another festive Christmas. The people would string out Christmas lights from building to building, making a twinkling canopy over the Manger Square. At the center, would stand an adorned 30 feet tall Christmas tree and by it a life-sized nativity. Sometimes, they use actors to play the Holy parents.  As Palestinian guides lounge and drink coffee at numerous cafe stands, tourists and pilgrims go in and out of the Nativity Church to see the gold-plated star marking the spot where Jesus was born. The makeup of the visitors would mostly be Christians, of course, Muslims and the non-religious who are there for the sights. Regardless of their reason, you have to wonder if they realize what truly happened in this place. Here are a number of clues. 

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14)  …which translated means, “GOD WITH US. (Matthew 1:23)

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3,14)

Immanuel was not meant to be a personal name. Instead, it was seen as the fulfillment of the Eternal and most Holy God humbling Himself by stepping down from the infinite into the finite; from Spirit into flesh. Read the words of a better storyteller than me, Max Lucado.

It all happened in a moment, a most remarkable moment. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.

The Omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.

God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.

God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother.

God had come near.

He is God but chose to be an ordinary man. For what reason? 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

How can we not sing…?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let Earth receive her King

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Google Map Tours Of The Bible: CHRISTMAS EDITION

This Christmas, your virtual tour guide, Johann Quisumbing (who is me, by the way), invites you to a merry visit to the Bible sites of the birth of our Messiah. During the Holy Week, I took a group of 25 or so folks to vicariously visit the Holy Land. We covered the sites of both the Old and New Testaments except the sites of the Advent story which we will visit this Christmas.

For those of you who live in the Philippines or in the UTC/GMT +8 hours region, join me LIVE via Zoom in the latest Google Map Tours Of The Bible: CHRISTMAS EDITION on two Saturdays (Nov 19 & Dec 17) 10AM & 2PM.

Or you can independently tour it yourself and lead a group of your own via Zoom, Skype, Messenger or and any other chat platforms by using 2 Itinerary Modules that I will again provide in my website.  These modules will provide you with many pertinent guide maps, images and multiple Google Map links based on the script which is written & compiled by me.

Module 1: SITES OF CHRISTMAS PROPHECIES CAME TO LIFE 

In this tour, we will follow the chronological timeline of the Christmas story told in the books of Luke and Matthew focusing on how the prophecies were fulfilled.

Module 2: THE REALITY OF THE NATIVITY SCENE

As we continue to follow the Christmas timeline, we will take a better look at familiar holiday scenes that we grew up with and explore the unadulterated version based only on what the Bible describes. We will also cover the darkest part of the Christmas story, however, I promise that we will end the tour with a joyful scene.


Live Tour Participants:

Tour Dates: Nov 19 & Dec 17

10AM – Module 1: SITES OF CHRISTMAS PROPHECIES CAME TO LIFE 

2PM – Module 2: THE REALITY OF THE NATIVITY SCENE

Guided tours will be conducted via Zoom. Viewing of Google Map links will work better on Laptop/Desktops. Cell phone viewing is possible, however keep in mind that you will be navigating on 2-3 open windows.

Schedules: Each module session may run  up to 1-1.5 hours (max 2 hours)

Register by QR-code:

Or, contact the Rhon Bautista at the UCM Library at 8812-6062 local 219/221 or email at library@unionchurch.ph