Bethlehem. Obviously there was no church there when Jesus was born, and the site was not elaborately adorned as it is now, but it was an eye opening experience anyway.
Bethlehem is in Palestine. It was a war zone, buildings half blown up and deserted, soldiers everywhere, and little children begging in the streets. There were a few scattered Christmas lights and decorations in random windows which stood out in drastic contrast to the reality of the war torn country. A brave gesture of hope and faith.
I was traveling with a group of inter-religious peace workers. Before we could cross the border from Israel to Palestine our buses, baggage and bodies had to be searched. It seemed to take hours. The drive into Bethlehem was somber as human activity in the area seemed scarce, except for the soldiers & police at their checkpoints.
Jesus was born in a cave, underground, where it was cold and drafty. Yes, it was a stable where animals were kept, but not they type of stable we depict in American nativity scenes. Even though I knew this intellectually before I went there, it was quite a different reality to experience it. There is a spot that is marked with a 14 pointed silver star on a
marble slab which is supposed to be the actual spot where Mary gave birth. Mary gave birth on the cold dirt ground in the middle of winter. Because I am a mother, tears rolled down my cheeks thinking of the reality of it.
Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came in such a humble and suffering way 2000+ years ago, to this small unknown place in the world. Yet his short life and brutal death have impacted the world more than any other person in human history. Why is his birthplace surrounded by guns, bombs and suffering? Clearly we have missed part of the message.
In Israel I participated in a peace conference, visited historical sites, walked Jesus path of tears, and met with people of all faiths. I visited temples, synagogues, mosques and churches and prayed for understanding and peace among all people of all faith traditions. I participated in a peace march and large rally where over 10,000 people of all faiths gathered to honor God together, and show that it is possible to love one another beyond the doctrines that divide us.
I gave most of my money to the children begging in the streets in both countries. However, I was able to bring home a few small and inexpensive souvenirs as gifts for my family members, bought from the children selling in the streets. What a different reality we have
in the USA where most children expect presents under a tree and stockings stuffed with goodies. Surely this inequity is not the desire or intention of a loving God.
I got home on Christmas Eve and was very tired, but every moment with my family was more meaningful than ever. I only wished that my whole family could have had this experience with me, but I tried to share the depth of it’s meaning as best as I could. That was nine years ago, and every year since I have prayed for peace between Israel and Palestine, as well as in the rest of the world. I believe in prayer, but clearly something more is needed.
How many tears will be shed, and how much blood spilled, before humanity values peace and true love enough to make amends?