Last December I felt I was entering in to the season of Advent in a deeper way than previous years. It was a time for me in which I intentionally focused on the waiting. A phrase that stood out to me in the beginning of Advent was a quotation by Sister Miriam James Heidland, who said:
Mary let go and did not grasp or make a plan B. We ought to wait with God rather than for God to make things happen.
My tendency is to always have a back up plan. I’m not so good at the waiting “with God” part. Instead, I twiddle my fingers waiting for God to show me how He is going to answer my prayer. If that means not answering my prayer in the way that I had hoped, then I expect Him to show me how He is going to answer my prayer in another concrete way. The ability to wait patiently in the unknown is not a gift that I have. But it ought to be.
Another reminder I received in the beginning of Advent was that waiting can be a gift that helps us to live in the present moment. I knew that if I better embraced the waiting I would naturally feel more at peace and more relaxed. In embracing the waiting, my surrender would be more full.
Nothing Would Again Be Casual or Small
As I began the Advent weeks of embracing the waiting, a friend sent me a poem by Fr. John Duffy titled “I Sing of a Maiden”. It was a favorite poem of the founder of the Sisters of Life, John Cardinal O’Connor, and each Sister wears a medal with a portion of the poem etched on to it. A few of the lines from the poem are as follows:
Never again would she awake
And in herself the buoyant Galilean lass,…
A new awareness in her body when she stirred,
A sense of Light within her virgin gloom:
She was the Mother of the wandering Word,
Little and terrifying in her laboring womb.
And nothing would again be casual and small,
But everything with light invested and overspilled
With terror and divinity, the dawn, the first bird’s call,
The silhouetted pitcher waiting to be filled.
These words became the focal point of my Advent meditation. I wanted my “silhouetted pitcher” to be filled, and I wanted to live life as if “nothing would again be casual and small.”
I invited Mary to walk with me in the waiting, just as she had walked with Joseph from their home in Nazareth to the place of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
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The History of the Basilica of the Nativity
Just over five miles south of Jerusalem sits Bethlehem, the place where “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). This holy site, which has been recognized as Jesus’ birthplace since the 2nd century, is housed within the Basilica of the Nativity. It is the oldest major church in the Holy Land. It is even included on the Unesco World Heritage List.
The church was originally commissioned by Saint Helena, a woman we have to thank for many of the important churches built in the 4th century. Her son, Emperor Constantine, legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. In order to enter the fortress-like Basilica of the Nativity which holds within it the cave where Mary gave birth to Jesus, you must bow low underneath a door which is just under four feet high. It is aptly named the door of humility because it reminds us to bow low and humble ourselves before we enter the place where God humbled Himself to become man.
The Status Quo
Today, the church is managed under the provision of what is called the Status Quo, which gives ownership to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Franciscan Churches. The Status Quo is a decree which was imposed in 1757 by the Ottoman Turks, giving a variety of religious communities both the ownership and responsibility of tending to different sections of sites within the Holy Land.
Inside the Church of the Nativity, a majority of the building and furnishings belong to the Greek Orthodox. The northern transept of the church is owned by the Armenians. Both the Greek Orthodox and the Armenians are responsible for the Altar of the Nativity. The Roman Catholics have possession of this church’s centerpiece, namely, the Grotto of the Manger, the cave where Mary gave birth to Jesus.
The specific location where Jesus was born is shown by a 14-pointed star. The fourteen points on the star give honor to the three different sets of fourteen generations of Jesus’ ancestry. We read in Matthew 1:17:
Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
There are two places in the Holy Land where the Latin word “hic” is inscribed upon a very significant place. In case your Latin is a little rusty, “hic” in these instances means “here.” It is a little word which carries a profound weight when standing in the places where Jesus walked.
The first place I read this was in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, at the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and she gave her fiat. In that place it reads:
Verbum caro HIC factum est
transforming the familiar phrase from John 1:14, “the Word was made flesh,” into:
the Word was made flesh HERE.
The other place I saw this word inscribed was on the 14-pointed star in the Basilica of the Nativity, where at the place Jesus was born it reads:
Hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est
HERE Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary.
Jesus did humble Himself before us by taking on human flesh. And as powerful as it was seeing the word “hic” at these sacred places in the Holy Land, Jesus is also here with us today. And He wants to wait with us.The Basilica at Bethlehem #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Susanna Parent is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can find out more about her here.