The bags are unpacked, the clothes are washing and I do believe the jet lag is being overcome…but the emotional, mental and spiritual bags may take a little longer to unpack. Going to Israel opened my eyes to geographical, historical, political, and spiritual aspects that I have previously either been naïve to or made like an ostrich and stuck my head in the sand. Stepping outside of my comfort zone and leaving home to visit a foreign land has given me a renewed love for my home, my country, my family, my friends…we are so blessed, we have so much freedom not only as citizens of the United States, but also as followers of Christ.
I was a part of a group of 52 brothers and sisters from my home church to make the pilgrimage to Israel for 9 days. Our group stayed in Bethlehem the entire time and took a tour bus to many of the historical and biblical sites including; Qumran, Masada, Megiddo, Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Mediterranean Sea, and Jerusalem. Over the next few posts I will recap some of our adventures, but for now I will focus on our stay in Bethlehem.
Growing up singing sweet Christmas carols about the little town where our Savior was born gave me a completely different impression than what greeted us as we made our way into the town of Bethlehem. The town of Bethlehem is a Palestinian territory surrounded by a wall. All who enter or exit must go through two military-armed check points before passing into or out of town.
Several times during our coming and going, armed military men or women would walk through our bus as part of the security check. Another unexpected site in Bethlehem was the amount of litter along the streets. It looked as if people just toss their trash in the streets or dump large amounts on overgrown lots.
There was a strong sense of oppression in this little town, which to me seems ironic because this is where our Savior, the One who came to “proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18) became flesh and dwelt among us, yet there is so much conflict and turmoil in this place. One might begin to wonder why this was the chosen place for Jesus’ birth. Bethlehem means “House of Bread” and in his own words Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Also, Bethlehem was little among the thousands of Judah, not significant because of the number of inhabitants or because of their importance, but Christ gave honor to this place, he did not derive honor from it, but rather the honor came in and through Him.
Another misperception I had was in regards to the the Inn where Joseph and Mary sought a room for the night and the manger in which they lay baby Jesus. The birth of our Lord was in a cave where the Inn Keeper's animals lived. The Church of the Nativity is the Holy Site entered through the Door of Humility, a small rectangular entrance in which to go through you must stoop.
My favorite part of Bethlehem was Shepherds’ Fields, the fields identified with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity.
Inside the small chapel at Shepherds' Fields where beautiful wall murals and sisters singing.
This may or may not have been the actual fields, but it is a natural site, not covered over with elaborate decorations and evoked a sense of peace and serenity and a wonderful place to reflect on the events that did occur all those Christmases ago.