Friday, December 18, 2015


Mural Over Christ's Birth Place, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
Herod the Great's Tomb, Herodium, Israel

The Christmas story involving Mary’s virgin pregnancy and the birth of the promised Messiah easily overshadow the life of Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph. Joseph has been described as a man with strong beliefs and right living who was willing to heavily invest himself for those beliefs. An angel of the Lord first appeared to Joseph in a dream to assure him that Mary, who was pledged to marry him, was with child through the Holy Spirit. And the child was the long awaited Messiah. The angel appeared in a second dream to warn Joseph to flee to Egypt to escape a decree from Herod the Great to kill all males less than two years old in an effort to eliminate the threatening new King of the Jews. When Herod died, the angel appeared a third time in a dream to instruct Joseph to take Mary and Jesus back to Israel. However, Herod had divided his kingdom among three of his sons. A fourth dream revealed that it was not safe to return home where the most brutal son Herod Archelaus ruled, so they were directed to Nazareth where ironically Herod Antipas ruled. He was a key character in the trial and death of Jesus.

Our first excursions into the Holy Land early this year were to Jesus’ birth place at a cave entrance in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the cave burial place at Herod the Great’s fortified palace called Herodium, atop a man-made mountain south of Jerusalem. God’s hand was directing the events in this pivotal drama of human history through his angelic messenger. Herod the Great vainly attempted to kill the anticipated Messiah at his birth by using all of the worldly evil and power at his command without succeeding. And thirty three years later in Jerusalem Jesus was brought before Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, who found him innocent of his accusers and returned Jesus to the governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s wife was greatly troubled by a dream that led her to tell her husband not to condemn this innocent man Jesus. But Pilate was a man of the world and politics prevailed.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story. The first angelic message delivered to Joseph was revealed to all the world just three days later. Archaeologists believe they found Herod the Great’s cold empty tomb at Herodium in 2007 among the ruins. It was probably decimated by the first Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 C.E. And we all know why Jesus’ garden tomb which is now preserved inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was found empty. Dreams really do come true!

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