Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas in Bethlehem

I have been thinking a lot lately about what is holy. Our family is on a wonderful vacation in a place often referred to as the Holy Land, visiting Bethlehem and Jericho and Nazareth and Galilee, wading in the Jordan River and the Red Sea, wandering through Jerusalem. I worshipped in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, listened to Orthodox chanting as I entered Jesus' baptismal waters, visited the Western Wall of the Temple and added my pleas and tears to the prayers of thousands of years. We swam in the waters that Moses parted; we floated on the salt of the Dead Sea; we wandered through the desert on camels, just a few days before Epiphany. It is holy. So very holy.

And yet, much of the holiness comes from those around me. We are with our very good friends, who live here, who struggle with the very real injustice and oppression in this land that has known extreme beauty and extreme tragedy. They have lived here for over three years, seeking to bring peace through education and understanding, seeking to live love among those who struggle and suffer. All around me, there are people who are trying to build bridges, to create hope, to bring reconciliation to people who are all too familiar with conflict and loss. The holiness of this land lies not only in what has happened, but in what will happen, in the hope that will not die.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries." I think it is true that this land is holy, but I think it is also true that all land is holy. And I think it is true that the people here are holy, but I think it is also true that all people are holy. God has touched each inch of land in this world, every drop of water, every grain of sand. And God is within every stained and imperfect person, every soul longing for hope, every spirit aching for redemption, every heart yearning for love. We take off our shoes on holy land, we come to a place that is filled with God, and we realize that earth is, indeed, crammed with heaven.

It was an amazing blessing to experience Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. But it wasn't just the old stones and the stars in the sky. It wasn't just the crowds of people, or the beating, jubilant drums. It wasn't just the phenomenal worship service, people singing familiar hymns in four different languages. It was Jesus. It was this child, sent to this land, sent to poor people, sent to live in the midst of oppression and pain and vulnerability. It was this God, who chose to become flesh, to infuse the world with holiness, to show us all how sacred and worthy and blessed human life can be. It was my faith, this reminder, that no matter where I am in the world - in Zambia, or Bethlehem, or in the United States - this Jesus, this God made flesh, will infuse my life with holiness, no matter what, no matter where. I just need to see it. I just need to take off my shoes.

It is the stranger at customs who spoke God's words without knowing it. It is baking cookies with a loving friend. It is the man at church who always cleans the dishes. It is groups of people who protest injustice. It is sitting quietly with a sick, tired grandmother. It is loud and crazy meals full of screaming children. It is a breeze in a silent cemetery. It is horns honking and snow falling and laughing so hard you cry. It is tears that fall so hard your nose runs and your heart aches and your stomach churns and you weep until you have fallen down, and somehow you realize that you have the energy to stand up again. It is the people who help you up.

Holy Land. Holy People. Holy God. Holy, holy, holy. I am so grateful to this God-made-flesh for infusing the world with all that is sacred, for infusing my life with hope and love and joy, for infusing us all with the spark of divinity. What an awesome God.

And now, photos....

In Manger Square in Bethlehem

In Shepherd's Field outside Bethlehem

In a cave at Shepherd's Field

Making cookies

Overlooking Jericho

In a prayer cave at a monastery

Temptation Mountain

In the Jordan River

On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho

Outside Old Jerusalem

The old city walls of Jerusalem

Overlooking the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Damascus Gate

Bethlehem on Christmas Eve

Bethlehem on Christmas Eve

Christmas morning in Jerusalem

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your beautiful words and thank you for putting this beautiful blog together. Blessings on you during the new year!