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.
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
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.
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)
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