Contrary to what I’ve no doubt led you to believe thus far, Andrew and I have been to more places than just Germany. For example, we’ve been to Israel. And from Jerusalem where we were staying, we took a day trip to Bethlehem… the city where Jesus was born.
On the morning of July 15, 2011, we went to Damascus Gate 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 took him up on his offer, and sure enough, when we arrived in Bethlehem, there was our guide waiting for us. We all figured that both the driver and guide seemed kind and trustworthy, which is remarkable considering the overall largely skeptical nature of the majority of our little group. It was a terrific decision to trust them.
Now we’ve arrived at the door to the Church of the Nativity. It’s a tiny door, that’s why you can’t see it. It once was very large, during the Middle Ages, when crusading knights would ride their horses right into the church. That’s reportedly why they made the door much smaller. You have to stoop very low to get in there, but in we all go. I think that group ahead of us were from a cruise, or a bus, or… both? Anyway, 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 go in the exit. Like, just squish our way in there, while the guard yelled at us. Meanwhile there were streams of tourists coming out the exit, and we had to go against the flow. I noted in my journal that 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 into home plate there, when I touched the site of Jesus’ birth. It didn’t feel holy to me, and I really only did it because we’d come all this way, so why not. But really, it just felt like I was busting in on other tourists. Like, I obviously had to cut in front of people in order to make this happen, since I snuck in through the exit in the first place. Needless to say, it was NOT the serene, meaningful experience I envision when I sing “Silent Night” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. To be even more honest… I wasn’t actually expecting it to be all that meaningful. Some would argue that that’s why it wasn’t that big a deal for me — because it’s only meaningful if you expect it to be. However, I don’t subscribe to that way of thinking. I knew it’d be chaotic over there, mobbed with tourists (such as myself). And I’d already been to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (that’ll be a future post), so I was pretty much expecting another tense, overwhelming atmosphere.
So… I could sit here and type all kinds of pretty, emotional words about what it meant to me to touch the place that Jesus was apparently born. (See? I don’t even believe it was necessarily the right place. I mean, it could be, definitely. But, I don’t think that can be 100% known.) But, it’d be terribly inauthentic of me if I were to pretend it was a life-changing experience for me.
In reality, it was almost more like a checklist situation:
Church of the Nativity?
Excellent. What’s next?
And if you’re wondering why we got the free guide and all that… well, they brought us to a gift shop. Of course they did. We expected this too. (We’d been on enough touristy day trips by this time to know.) We’d already planned on buying a nativity there, and so we did. It may have been overpriced, but whatever — this was what we wanted to do — purchase a nativity made of olive wood in Bethlehem. It’s simple, but beautiful.
And then they gave us some mint tea at the tourist shop. And then we returned to Jerusalem.