It’s Christmas in our part of the world. Christmas hasn’t come for Israel yet. Soon.
I went to Israel last year (on a mission trip) and I got to see Bethlehem on their Christmas Day. That was special to me. I worshipped in a Christian church on Christmas Day (actually our Day of Epiphany) in the city where Christ was born.
We sang Christmas carols for the pastor and our tour guide. It was amazing. But riding into Bethlehem was frightening.
We arrived by tour bus. We had to go through a checkpoint. We had to agree to a tour, pay that fee, visit the gift shop owned by the tour company, to even enter Bethlehem. It was like Disney for Christians. But it didn’t look like Magic Kingdom. Huge neighborhoods lined either side of the tall stone walls. The top of the wall tinseled with razor wire. Not very festive.
I was looking around the town, hopelessly expecting the nativity, a manger, the barn? All the storybook signs of the birthplace of Jesus, right? I didn’t really expect those things, but I expected some sign. What widened my eyes and stiffened my spine wasn’t a neon sign pointing to a mysterious pile of hay, no pine trees and mistletoe, not even palm trees strangled in Christmas lights. There was Main Street, lined with beret-ed men bearing arms. I hadn’t noticed them at first, but as soon as I looked down–shoulder-to-shoulder soldiers–each armed with an Uzi or rifle. I was scared.
You see, as an American, I don’t see that. Really ever. I don’t see soldiers lining the street to keep order. A military parade with a band, perhaps? One may see a police officer cruising the lane on occasion. And we slow down. We obey all traffic laws. We buckle our belt if wasn’t already. Our neck hair may bristle, our eyes may squint, our lips may tighten, but we aren’t scared for our lives. I’m mainly scared for my wallet, but I’m a law-abiding citizen. And I have the advantage of being born in a wide-open space with wide-open inalienable rights.
These men were simply present in this volatile tiny town to protect Christmas Day. There would soon be a Christmas parade and these Israeli soldiers were there to keep order.
Here in America, on the day of a parade, children would line the streets. Hands in the air, grabbing for candy, confetti, or Christmas spirit. Not in the City of David. The only thing up for grabs was peace.
A cool breeze greeted me off the bus, but it carried sand, dust and anxiety. Don’t look at anyone, don’t smile, just pay attention, follow directions, don’t speak. “And don’t take pictures!” We had been advised. I don’t know if that was the group’s ideal, good advice, or just good-ol’ Puritanical/Evangelical thinking. It wasn’t clear, but again, I’m a law-abiding rule follower. Just do it.
The sun brought warmth as it peaked over a nearby building. The streets were crowded with buildings and people. Sidewalks were uneven. Building codes were a suggestion. Signs were confusing. Horns blared as the bus blocked the narrow lanes to let us off, but I simply followed the group.
Spices always on the air. Food always warming. Israel always moving.
I snapped one photo on the way out of town. I couldn’t help myself. You can see a distant city on the hill.
What’s important? What’s worth dying for? It’s not the places were born. It’s the places we’ll go. But mostly, the people we’re capable of loving.
These people fight over this land. They launch rocks, bottles, rockets, and hate over these walls. For a place to stand. Live. Work.
My American spirit tells me–my God tells me–there is land enough for everyone. You just have to be willing to move. If you love, you will be loved. How far are you willing to go for love? I would go around the world from here until the Second Coming for my loves. I’m trying to expand my territory of love to even those who do nothing for me. Because it’s unusual. And it feels good. And I am commanded to be a city on a hill.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
I did see a cool nativity though! At the gift shop, carved out of olive wood. I asked to take a picture. 😀