Day Twenty-Four: The Ordinary and the Ornate

December 24, 2019
By Casey Alarcon

By Casey Alarcon

2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:1-12 (NIV)

The reading and preparations had been done, schedules and plans made, and we were in the midst of packing our bags for a bucket list trip. Still, I wasn’t sure why I felt so strongly we should go and what exactly I was hoping for once we arrived. It was certainly a pilgrimage, and I knew Jesus would reveal himself at a point and place in Israel that would answer the consistent refrain I have expressed since I first believed: “Show yourself to me, Lord.”

I have “seen” Jesus many times and in many ways since 1980, but I believed a long trip across the ocean to the very place were he was born, walked, preached, healed, died, and rose again would silence my reoccurring request and make me “certain of what I can not see” in a new and powerful way.

Carlos and I heard our friend read the Sermon on the Mount at the Church of the Beatitudes. We waded in the Jordan River with friends. We read the very words of Scripture from the Dead Sea Scrolls. We wept at the Garden of Gethsemane. We climbed the Temple steps where it is indisputable that Jesus walked. We lingered in the Garden Tomb and felt the weight of obedience in the stones David slung at Goliath. Even with all of those experiences, it wasn’t those parts of the journey that answered my frequent request.

During our final days in Israel, we traveled to Bethlehem for an anticipated visit to The Church of the Nativity, where the historians and faithful say Jesus was born. Elaborate and lavishly adorned, the church is truly made for the king our Jewish brothers and sisters longed for in the days of Caesar Augustus, but it looks nothing like I had anticipated. Between the decorations, paintings, gilded fixtures, and ornate altar, you can glimpse a small part of the bedrock and what appears to be a cave. But the manger where Mary brought forth Jesus and laid him wrapped in clothes upon a feeding trough is hardly recognizable. As I reflected on Luke’s description of Christ’s birth, this sacred ground was not as I envisioned it. I could not see Jesus in this place but that’s when I heard his words so clearly, “You don’t have to look for me here. Look for me where you’ve always seen me.”

Let me be clear, I know if you make the journey to the Holy Land, you will be blessed as we were because in many ways our faith was made sight. The words on the pages and the pictures I had seen all my life came alive before me in full, living color, and the truth of God’s word was illuminated in a way I couldn’t see before.

The Lord was faithful to remind me once again what I’ve always known. He shows up in the ordinary, not just the ornate. He shows up in the mundane and not just in the magnificent. Just as the angel appeared to the lowly shepherds in a field on that holy night recorded in our Scriptures, Jesus reveals himself to us daily wherever we are. We need not travel far way. We need not seek him in a holy place. We need simply to open our eyes and see Him. My hope this Christmas is that as he shows himself to us, we truly do see all the mighty things he has done!