"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem" The Saviors birth!

"Let us now go even unto Bethlehem" The Saviors birth!

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Destination: Bethlehem, Israel
Date: March 2011

Walking the streets of Jerusalem
March 2011

Our travel group.  My in-laws and five of their six kids and spouses
Jerusalem 2011

Since today is Christmas it seems appropriate that I write about my trip to our Saviors birthplace, Bethlehem.  This was an amazing trip that my in-laws put together to bring all of Trent’s siblings, and their spouses, together for a special couples trip.  We all met over in Tel-Aviv and from there made our way through the Holy land in this very special group.  Between all of Trent’s siblings we have twenty-six kids.  Most of the time our gatherings are hectic due to the volume of children and their never ending need for us parents.  This trip was special because it was just for grown-ups.  Not all of Trent’s siblings made it on the trip but for those of us who did it is something we will never forget.  Now when we look at each other we know we have walked where Jesus has walked, and we shared this sacred experience with one another.

Found on a wall just outside of the Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem March 2011
The Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem March 2011
The bell tower that sits at the top of the church
Bethlehem March 2011

After being in Israel for four days we finally made it north to Bethlehem.  During our visit to Israel we had a Jewish tour guide with a Palestinian driver (who had a duel passport).  When we had to cross out of Jerusalem over to Bethlehem, which is now under the Palestinian Authority, we had to leave our Jewish guide because he was not allowed to enter Palestine.  We had to cross the border and we were able to do that in our vehicles with only a border check of passports.  Once our driver made it across we met our guide from Palestine.

A sign near Bethlehem on the Jerusalem side of the border
Jerusalem March 2011
Bethlehem as seen from the Jerusalem side of the border
March 2011

Our Palestinian guide claimed to be a Christian Palestinian.  He also claimed to be of direct lineage of the shepherds who followed the star to witness the birth of our Savior.  Though he wore a gold cross around his neck the cynic in me questioned if his claim to Christianity wasn’t just his ploy to make a buck.  I guess I will never know since I just had to take his word for it, and since I’ve never met a Christian Palestinian I couldn’t say I’ve ever had an experience like this before.  

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:8

Though Bethlehem is only a six mile drive from Jerusalem it is a world of difference.  The streets are littered and in need of repair.  There is spray paint on walls and it looks like every building is in some sort of phase of construction and none of it complete.

 “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is calledaBethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)” Luke 2:4

Our guide in his family’s wood carving shop
Bethlehem March 2011

When we met our guide it was at a very clean but deserted cafe.  There were twelve of us in our party and we had the whole place to ourselves.  Beside seeing the lamb on the rotisserie in the front I would have thought the restaurant had been shut down long ago.  We enjoyed a typical meal of schwarma, or falafel pitas with some hummus and canned sodas.  Once we were full our first stop was to our tour guides family business, a wood working shop.  

He took us down to the shop where his father and brother-n-laws all whittle statues and figurines depicting Christian symbols and many events of the life of Christ.  However, they also made figurines of other religious faiths but most were of the Christian denomination.  The shop was dirty and dusty and used some very primitive tools but some sophisticated ones as well.  The statues they made were beautiful and there was no denying the craftsmanship that was put into making these figurines .  The statues faces alone were magnificent and there was a real difference between the artist and the beginners.  

Some of the machinery used to carve seven  figurines at the same time
Bethlehem March 2011
My favorite nativity I purchased at our guides store in Bethlehem, made of real olive wood of the area

Of course the tour ended at their family’s shop where we could purchase any items we wanted to take home with us.  Since the statues were made with olive wood from the area they were smooth and beautiful.  On top of the shop is the apartment home of the patriarch of the family and from there each apartment of the family is built on top of one another, with the youngest married members living on the top.  From there the rebarb sticks out of the roof of the apartments to make way for more apartments to be built on top continuing this never ending vertical version of Dallas’ Southfork. (Can’t say it wasn’t my dads dream to have all his kids live in a wing of a huge house, but I don’t think he would have wanted us all on top of each other!)

The hanging lamps that line the center of the Church of the Nativity
Bethlehem March 2011

Some of the beautiful mosaics that are being preserved on the floor of the church
Bethlehem March 2011

From the carpenter shop we finally made it over to the birthplace of our Savior.  Though I would have loved to see it depicted like it was in His day, of course the passage of over 2,000 years has changed that.  There was no inn or stable but instead the Church of the Nativity has been built on top.  This church was built back in the 4th century and then rebuilt again in the 6th with more repairs made by the Crusaders.  Once entering a low lying doorway into the building it is much like a Catholic chapel.  There are remnants of old tile mosaics that express what a beautiful chapel this must have been at one time.  Unfortunately now it is dark, dusty and didn’t have the feeling I was hoping to have at such a holy site.  

 “15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” Luke 2: 15

Walking down into the original cave of the nativity
Bethlehem March 2011

I truly hope I don’t sound sacrilegious describing what I saw but it had such an effect on me, because it was not like anything I had ever imagined when I think of the birthplace of our Savior.  Once inside the building and up towards the alter there is a side set of stairs that leads down to the actual spot that is designated as the place where Christ was born.  Winding down a small narrow set of stairs we passed through canvases and fabric that are hung to hide the cave like walls of this room. With the amount of dust and dirt on these fabrics I think I would have preferred the cave structure.  

 12 And this shall be a asign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.Luke 2:12

The mark that represents the spot of Christ’s birth
Bethlehem March 2011
Many people stop to kiss the ground in this alcove so it is very busy
Bethlehem March 2011

Once down in the cave area there is what looks like a fireplace with a star inside, this is where the babe was born and wrapped in swaddling clothes so long ago.  It was adorned in the finest materials of marble and the craftsmanship was beautiful, and much fancier than I would have thought should have been there, but that is not what mattered.  What mattered was the feeling I received being there.  To be right there where the Savior was born, or even if it wasn’t exactly that spot I was there in the vicinity.  It was all a very moving experience.  Once I had put aside my thoughts on what the world had done with this holy sight I was able to feel the presence of angels.  It was a very sacred experience.

Another cave nearby that doesn’t have all of the adornments better represented the birthplace to me in my mind
Bethlehem March 2011

Down around another set of stairs there is a better example of what a stable looked like in the days of Mary and Joseph.  It was on the side of the hill and looked more like a cave like structure.  This is where I was overcome of the sanctity of  where I was standing.  Here without the grandeur, in a simple cave, I could better identify with what I had imagined for so many years.  So my testimony was buoyed and strengthened with this visit.  Being there and reflecting on the events of Luke 2 I felt the spirit whisper to my heart that He Lives!  He was born!!  My heart is full even writing this and putting my thoughts down, it really is hard to describe the feeling of this holy place.  

While we were there we all lingered together, as couples, or privately thinking about the miracle that happened here under the Church of the Nativity.  Presently the church is sectioned off and owned by different churches.  Each church wanting to own a bit of this holy site.  I don’t think that is how the Savior would have like to it,  but I am grateful that we are able to have access to this area.  

A Bedouin man shepherding his sheep
Bethlehem border March 2011
The poverty these nomads live in near the border.
Those train cars are made into makeshift homes and barns for their flock
Bethlehem March 2011

After visiting this area we got back on our van and began our exit from Palestine and headed back to Jerusalem. Along the way, and just after the border crossing, we came upon a shepherd and his flock. They were coming in from the fields and this nomad, bedouin, was bringing his flock to his makeshift pen he had set up with his very temporary living quarters. We asked our bus driver to stop and we got off the bus to get a closer look. My sister-in-law “T” is a photographer and she has no fear asking for permission to take someones photo. She walked briskly over to the bedouin and using hand signs, instead of a language he did not understand, she asked to take his photo. The man graciously accepted and even brought out a few lambs so we could get close ups of his flock. It was a sweet experience.

Our little group having an impromptu devotional on this holy land where the shepherds followed the star so long ago  It was a humbling visit
Bethlehem March 2011

While “T” got her photos,  I stood there on the bluff looking over the valley back towards Bethlehem. I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed.  I was standing at a bedouin camp of a shepherd that had just brought his flock in for the night.  I was standing in the field where those shepherds long ago saw the star and the angels proclaiming the birth of our Savior.  I felt like I had been transported back two-thousand years ago to a simpler time  At that moment I had to say a prayer of thanksgiving to my Father in Heaven for sending down his only begotten Son to save us from our own sins.  So at this Christmas time I hope we can all remember these humble beginnings but most of all remember that He lives!  I have been to His birthplace and it was testified to me that He lives!!

 11 For unto you is aborn this day in the city of David a bSaviour, which is Christ the cLord.

I have a firm testimony of my Savior Jesus Christ.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it is often questioned if we are Christians.  I hope that by reading my blog, and getting to know me in person, you may understand that I am a Christian.  I believe in the same God of the Bible, the same God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob.  I know that my Savior was born in Bethlehem so long ago and was later crucified so that I could be forgiven of my sins.  I know this is a gift I must be worthy.  I pray that  by my daily actions, my works on this earth I will be judged and be  found worthy to live with Him again someday.  This is my testimony to you and I pray at this holiday season we can all take time to remember our Savior, Jesus Christ.