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Here is the Christmas story as told through the churches in the Holy Land.
Christmas here highlights the small but ancient Christian community that has
existed in the Holy Land since soon after the days of Jesus' time on
The following is Travelujah's listing of churches significant to
the Christmas story and Christianity in the Holy Land as the events appear in
1. Church of St. John the Baptist, Jerusalem
"Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the
altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with
fear. But the angel said to him: 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has
been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the
name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of
his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take
wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even
from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their
God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to
turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the
wisdom of the righteous--to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.'"
in the book of Luke, the Christmas story actually begins with the announcement
of the birth of Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist.
A Greek Orthodox Church,
perhaps the oldest church in Jerusalem, dedicated to John the Baptist exists in
the Christian Quarter of the Old City, but is rarely open to visitors. The
Church of St. John the Baptist was founded in the 5th century.
of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Luke 1:26-38 "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.' 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. And behold, even your
relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was
called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with
God.' And Mary said, 'Behold, the bond slave of the Lord; may it be done to me
according to your word.' And the angel departed from her."
Soon after the
announcement to John's father, the angel Gabriel visited Elizabeth's cousin Mary
to tell her that she was chosen to conceive the Messiah. Mary, who was engaged
to Joseph at the time, lived in Nazareth.
Jesus was raised in Nazareth.
The church of the Annunciation was built in the 1960s, but stands on the
foundations of an ancient Byzantine church and a Crusader church from the Middle
Ages. A grotto below the church is believed to be the place where Gabriel
3. Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem
1:39-45 "Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to
a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. When
Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was
filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said,
'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has
it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when
the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had
been spoken to her by the Lord.'"
After Mary found out the she had conceived the
Messiah, she left Nazareth to visit her cousin Elizabeth who she had found out
from the angel was also pregnant. Elizabeth lived in the Judean village of Ein
Karem, just outside of Jerusalem. The Church of the Visitation, built in 1679,
marks the site of their visit.
The church is under the care of the
4. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
Luke 2:1-7 "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. 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. 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
Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, the city from where
Joseph's family came, in order to register as part of a nationwide census. Jesus
is believed to have been born in the Grotto where the Church of the Nativity now
stands. The church was built in 325 AD and is one of the oldest churches in the
world. It is the most popular stop on Christmas Eve and Christmas
5. Shepherds' Field, Beit Sahour
Luke 2:8-20 "In the same region there
were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock
by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of
the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But 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. 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 host praising God and
saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He
is pleased.' When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds
began saying to one another, 'Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this
thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.' So they came in a
hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the
manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been
told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which
were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering
them in her heart. The shepherds went back; glorifying and praising God for all
that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them."
After Jesus was born,
the angels announced the good news to shepherds outside Bethlehem, in what is
today is known as Shepherds' Field. Two churches, one Roman Catholic and one
Greek Orthodox, have been built in honor of the event.
The Greek Orthodox
Church dates back to the 4th century. The Franciscan Catholic church was
designed to resemble a shepherds' tent.
6. Mar Theodosius, Beit Sahour
2:1-12 "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.' ... 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. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother;
and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures,
they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been
warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own
country by another way."
After Jesus was born, wise men from the east visited
Jesus in Bethlehem. According to tradition, Theodosius was led to prepare a cave
in which the wise men rested after bringing their gifts to Jesus. St. Theodosius
Monastery, founded in 476, was built on that site. After their visit, the wise
men were warned by an angel to return to their country via another road to avoid
King Herod in Jerusalem.
7. St. Joseph's Chapel, Bethlehem
2:13-15 "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. He remained there until the death of Herod.
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 'Out
of Egypt I called my son.'"
Next to the Church of the Nativity, one of several
chapels at St. Catherine's in Bethlehem includes one dedicated to Joseph. The
Chapel of St. Joseph is believed to be where an angel appeared to Joseph and
commanded him to flee to Egypt.
8. The Milk Grotto, Bethlehem
2:16-18 "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became
very enraged, and sent and slew 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. 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.'"
This smaller and more peaceful chapel is located close to the
Nativity Church in Manger Square. According to tradition, while Mary was feeding
Jesus a few drops of milk spilled to the ground turning the rocks white. This
chapel has long been a devotional site for women. The church is believed to be
where Joseph, Mary and Jesus stayed on their way to escape to
The chapel, built around the Grotto, was constructed by the
Franciscans in 1872. The grotto is hollowed out of the soft white rock. A
tradition identifies this as the burial site of the young victims of Herod's
Slaughter of the Innocents.
A new book, entitled Beautiful
Churches of the Holyland, written by David Rapp and photographed by
Hanan Isachar, was recently published in Hebrew and is soon to be released in
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the
leading Christian travel network focused on travel to the Holy Land. People can
learn plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on