O Little Town Of Bethlehem – Bruce’s Personal Pilgrimage [Photos]
Thanks to our imaginations we have the ability to see places without ever having seen them. To me, Bethlehem, the town where Jesus Christ was born was a serene and holy place. A place where reverent silence surrounded the place where something truly amazing happened. That's the story my mind had been telling me since I was a child. I suppose the sedate and calming strains of the Christmas Carol had painted that picture between my ears.
In reality Bethlehem is nothing like the quiet little town depicted in the song. It is a thriving and bustling city. The people who live there are far from being at peace. There is a strong sense of disharmony among those that call Bethlehem home. The struggle between faiths and the desire to have a sovereign rule is evident. While the outside might seem peaceful and tolerant there is great contention.
The first thing I noticed was just how commercialized "Jesus" was amongst the town's merchants. At the risk of sounding disrespectful the Lord and Savior to so many was simply a reason to sell souvenirs to others. The area around manger square was basically free of brash commercialism but the street hawkers were out in full force. This certainly took away from the thought of a quiet pilgrimage I thought I would experience.
The Church of the Nativity was built on the site where the manager of Jesus' birth took place. I had to keep reminding myself that centuries had passed since the time of the Holy Birth. The church was ornate, yet simple. There were glass objects that were suspended from the ceiling. These objects reminded me of the ornaments we place upon our Christmas Trees.
Toward the back of the sanctuary there were some very narrow and very steep steps. These steps led down to one of the most amazing places I have ever seen with my own eyes or touched with my own hands. The Altar of the Nativity is said to mark the exact spot where Jesus was born. The altar is covered in white marble and within the marble is a 14 point silver star. There is an inscription in Latin that translates to "Here Jesus Christ was Born".
The irony of Bethlehem was not lost on me. In this tiny town thousands of years ago a Savior was born to bring peace into the world. To gain access to the city one must pass through a "life saving separation fence" or more accurately a wall. This wall is very similar to the Berlin Wall of Germany. The Israelis say the fence keeps suicide bombers from walking freely from Palestine into Israel and committing their acts of cowardice. The Palestinians suggest that it is simply Israel trying to control them.
When people find out that I have traveled in Israel and Palestine they often ask did you feel safe? Actually I felt very safe. I never felt as if anyone was out to do me harm for my religious beliefs or nationality. I was more concerned with a pick pockets or over zealous street vendors than any fanatic follower of any religion.
There have been two places I have traveled that left me feeling very different after I had visited. One was the Berlin Wall. That wall was erected the year I was born and the energy surrounding the struggle it took to bring it down still fills the air.
The other was this most Holy Place in Bethlehem. What happened on this spot on the night of the first Christmas still fills the air with a spiritual energy that you can feel throughout your body. There is an electricity generated by standing where an incredible power once walked. There is a distinct feeling of peace and purpose that flashes through your body. In that moment, the noise of modern day Bethlehem ceases and becomes that quiet town where a baby was born and rested in a manger so that there might one day be peace on Earth.