No bus in Jerusalem would take us. Some of the locals advised us not to go. All of the tourist information boxed in with warning signs the West Bank sections of their books. But my buddy and I wanted to go. Finally, at the Jaffa gate, we hooked up with a Palestinian Muslim taxi driver. I had to see the birthplace of Jesus.
We coaxed the driver into one stop before Bethlehem . . . the cave of Machpelah. Sitting in the back, I held back the urge to slink down in my seat. Hebron lay in decay and rubbish. I saw deeply troubled people. Hardened stares returned my nervous glances. No one smiled. Over the ancient burial place of Abraham, we looked up at a large Muslim building. Israeli soldiers frisked us, businesslike, at two different checkpoints. They missed nothing. Inside, our shoes went off immediately. And I didn’t understand one word of the attendant, fiercely jabbering in Arabic. It was nice to get back outside and breathe some fresh air.
Bethlehem was no better. The huge, ancient fortress had withstood the ravages of time and war, standing intact since the early sixth century. But the darkness of the monstrous Basilica of the Nativity swallowed us up in its gloom. Suffocating smoke from incense. Paintings, candles, statues. All kinds of visible expressions of church wealth accosted the tourist. But where was the holy Child of Bethlehem in all of this? Bethlehem had traded Roman oppression for the oppression of church commercialism. No one wanted to see a simple cave or a stone trough.
I had to get out of Bethlehem, tired of peddlers in the square and cheap, olive wood trinkets jammed up in my face. The taxi driver quickly drove us up to a shepherd’s hillside. “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” I disagree with this statement by Phillips Brooks. That’s not what I discovered when I went to Bethlehem. I found a city wracked with pain and turmoil. “O holy Child of Bethlehem”, the people need You.
People all around us in Idaho Falls need You. I need You.
“Descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin and enter in–be born in us today.”