One of the sites included in the itinerary of the Holy Land pilgrimage I joined was the Chapel of the Angels, a Catholic church located in the shepherd’s field where, according to tradition, an angel appeared to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds.
Internet research reveals that the Chapel of the Angels is actually one of three possible sites in Beit Sahur where the event took place. Just the same, though, the Chapel of the Angels is within the area where the shepherds were tending their flocks of sheep when they saw the angel.
The Chapel of the Angels is shaped like a shepherd’s tent, and its façade is decorated with a bronze angel. The dome has small windows in it that, according to our guide, were meant to make the sunlight simulate the light from the appearance of the angel. Inside the church are paintings of the scene of the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the shepherds adoring the Christ Child, and the shepherds celebrating Christ’s birth.
I also noticed a slab containing the Latin text of Luke 2:8–10, which, in English, reads:
“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people.’”
In the slab containing the Latin text, the words “evangelizo vobis gaudium” (I bring you good news) are in bold.
Within the grounds of the chapel, there is a cave said to be a typical one in which shepherds used to take shelter. The cave is now available for use for group activities.
As with all sites in the Holy Land connected with the life of Christ, it would have been nice to linger around the Chapel of the Angels. But our guide, who did not want us to miss our reserved time slot at St. Joseph’s Chapel in the Church of the Nativity where we planned to have Mass, bound our group to a strict schedule. He gave us only a few minutes to see the chapel and the cave, take a few pictures, and maybe squeeze in a restroom break.
I understood our guide’s concern, however, considering the difficulty of rounding up all 47 of us to the bus and the unpredictability of traffic. Fortunately, we did reach the chapel within the reserved time slot. We had Mass, as planned, after which we joined the long queue to venerate the exact spot where Christ was born.
The rush to reach the Mass venue on time reminded me of the shepherds who—it is written in Luke 2:16—“went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” I imagined that those shepherds ran the distance that we drove from the Chapel of the Angels to the Church of the Nativity. The “good news of great joy” they received from the angel must have made them happy enough to run that far, as described in the Spanish Christmas carol that sings of them running to Bethlehem so fast that their shoes broke:
Los pastores a belén
llevan de tanto correr
los zapatos rotos
Hay hay hay
que alegres van
hay hay hay
Con la pan pan pan
con la de de de
con la pan con la de
con la pandereta
y las castañuelas.
The joy with which those shepherds ran to Bethlehem is a lesson to us modern adults. When we were children, Christmas was a magical occasion for us and we looked forward to it—the gifts, the decors, the fun events. Now, as adults, we sometimes drag our feet instead of run to Bethlehem. As we endure the Christmas season rush-hour traffic on our way home from work, we stress over Christmas parties we are either hosting or attending, year-end deadlines at the office, and last-minute shopping to squeeze into our schedules and budgets. It has reached the point that I once saw a newsletter article about people who, when interviewed, said they hate Christmas for the reasons I mentioned above.
There would, indeed, be many reasons to hate Christmas if it were only about obligatory socials. But Christmas is all about the “good news of great joy” of Christ being born. The shepherds, simple folk as they were, understood this.
In this modern age, we may not have the luxury of the simple life those shepherds lived. But as God sent the angel to those shepherds, He sends us our own reminders of the “good news of great joy” that is the essence of Christmas. We must train ourselves to be sensitive to these reminders, so that the non-essentials do not make us miss out on the “good news of great joy.”
This Christmas, let us run to Bethlehem that we may find Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in the manger. Let no one of us miss out on the “good news of great joy.”