Like any pair of good Mennonites, Andrew and I went to Israel once upon a time. And it goes without saying that we journeyed to Bethlehem…the city where Jesus was born. Here’s how that day played out…
On the morning of July 15, 2011, we went to Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem to see if we could catch a bus to Bethlehem. Instead, we found a cab. The driver told us he could take us to Bethlehem and provide us with a guide free of charge. We went through the armed border into the West Bank. No one even looked at our passport. And sure enough, just like the cab driver said, when we arrived in Bethlehem, there was our guide waiting for us.
Our cab driver didn’t want to wait for us all day behind that incredibly long line to get into the place of Jesus’ birth, so he went to talk to some of the guards. I guess he was negotiating, because suddenly he came and told us to enter through the exit. Yes, ENTER through the EXIT! Like, just squish our way in there, while the guard yelled at us. Meanwhile there were streams of tourists emerging from the exit, and we had to go against the flow. But I guess Mennonites are used to going against the flow. Occasionally a priest would yell, “QUIET!” It was very peaceful. (No it wasn’t.)
I’m pretty good at maneuvering in crowds, so I pretty much just dove, like Pete Rose, into home plate when I touched the site of Jesus’ birth. It was NOT the serene, meaningful experience I envision when I sing “Silent Night” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in my Mennonite church. And, of course, it’s highly unlikely this was the exact spot (or anywhere close to the spot) where Jesus was actually born.
Afterwards they took us to some church built over top of the exact spot some of Mary’s breast milk had spilt. (Seriously). And then, of course, to a gift shop, which explains why the tour guide was free. I bought a small nativity scene made of olive wood. I’m looking at it right now. A stable. A manger. Sheep. Wisemen. The whole bit. Of course, you don’t see any of that when you visit Bethlehem. But then again, maybe I just missed it. Maybe I was just looking at it the wrong way. After all, we did ENTER through the EXIT.
Merry Christmas, everyone!