O’ come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. O’ come ye, o’ come ye, to Bethlehem …
Christmas is over, but I can’t stop thinking about these words. I can’t stop thinking about what it means to come – joyful and triumphant – to Bethlehem.
To small, forgotten Bethlehem. The least likely of all locations, yet a place of miracles. A place where new things are birthed. A place of life.
A place of hope.
The journey Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem means more to me this year than ever before. I was in Bethlehem just over two months ago. Despite all the times I’ve been in Israel, this was only the second time I’d been in Bethlehem–and the first time I actually visited Manger Square.
We were compelled to go. We knew it was a must even before we left the States. But the journey wasn’t an easy one. Let’s just say we didn’t take the most direct route. Bethlehem isn’t all that far from where we were staying in Jerusalem, but we started off late and, due to some incomplete directions, promptly got on the wrong bus. We were dropped off far away from any familiar landmarks and ended up walking for way too long in the wrong direction. Since I was already sick and we were both more than a little worn out, we were close to giving up. But we were sure we were supposed to go, so we decided to wait it out a little longer. Finally, with the help of a young Israeli man–who appeared out of nowhere at just the right time speaking impeccable English–we made it to our destination.
We wove our way through the labyrinth of check points, barbed wire, and bullet proof barriers that led across the border and walked right into a frenzy of taxi drivers eagerly competing for the patronage of those with business in the city and for that of the few pilgrims who actually walk across the border on their own. (Almost anyone who visits Bethlehem as a tourist, comes into the city in the security of a large tour bus.)
Somehow we managed to escape the throng of “persuasive” cabbies. We were on a mission and determined to navigate the two miles or so to Manger Square on our own.
It was a walk I’ll never forget.
I’m not sure I can tell you why. All I know is that on that walk, I changed. Something in me changed. My friend Genevieve felt the same. Even more, we literally felt the atmosphere in the city change.
Can I prove that? No. But I don’t have to …
I was there.
There was next to nothing on that walk that would have been even remotely familiar to Mary and Joseph. We saw nothing that would have been familiar to the shepherds, or wise men or anyone else who made the journey so many years ago.
But in the unseen realm, I suspect there were many similarities.
We were unlikely candidates, on an unlikely journey, headed to the most unlikely of places. We all came as weary travelers who had overcome many obstacles and endured many detours (and I’m not just talking about getting on the wrong bus here), yet we all ultimately arrived — joyful and triumphant — in Bethlehem.
I think the real miracle of Bethlehem is that it’s a place where faith is birthed. I didn’t “see” much of anything out of the ordinary that day. But isn’t that what faith is all about? First you believe, then you see. In many ways, I’m sure even those who came to see Jesus that first Christmas could say the same. Sure there were some very compelling signs directing them along the way (there was, after all, that big splashy angel light show), but when they got to the manger–in the natural–all they saw was a baby.
But what they saw with eyes of faith was a different story. They saw a King. They saw the Messiah.
They saw hope.
So did we.
In case you’re wondering, we didn’t find hope in the Church of the Nativity. I’m not a big fan of most of the “holy” sites in Israel and quite honestly that’s why I hadn’t even bothered to go to the church before. I’ve been to many of them and they’re all pretty much the same. No, we didn’t find hope in a church …
We found hope on the journey.
And hope is joyful.
Hope is triumphant.
No matter where you are on the journey right now–keep going. Stay on the path. Stay on the road to Bethlehem. You’re meant to be there. You’re meant to journey to a place of miracles. A place where new things are birthed. A place of life.
A place of hope.
A place of faith. And when you begin to walk in that place of joyful, triumphant faith …
Just wait and see what happens in the atmosphere around you.