The Church of the Nativity Square captured by Lindsey Ponder.
I thought about writing on my experience in Bethlehem, but I decided I should just post an excerpt from my hermeneutics journal assignment, so that's below. Shabbat Shalom!
21 January 2016:
Although my cognitive encyclopedia is growing in width and area, it’s also expanding with depth as I am starting to feel more deeply emotions connected to each area. In the past several days, these emotions have mostly been positive – they have been senses of awe and wonder and feelings of reverence for the Lord as Scripture has come to life. But today was not. Today was feelings of contradictory – emotions battling within me as I felt the dark presence of evil at work within a place of supposed holiness. Today our group went to Bethlehem, and as we approached the West Bank entrance, we got to see the hills where the shepherds were watching their flocks by night (Luke 2:8). This was the highlight of the day because it was a simple sight – a couple of hills covered in green in a region where shepherds watched their sheep as many of their fathers before them and after them have. However, the simplicity turned chaotic once we crossed that Area A border and each store lining the street screamed a commercialization of the birth of my dear Savior. People lined the streets yelling the few phrases they knew in English, just as they do all over the world, trying to get us to buy their souvenirs that claim authenticity but were actually made in China. This wasn’t evil; it was the expected tourism of such a place. But as soon as we got out of our bus and entered the Church of the Nativity Square, juxtaposing the mosque it felt dark. It felt unholy. It felt wrong. We went through the Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic sections and each one was adorned with icons. The icons may have once pointed to the beauty of Christ and His Word, but not today. Today they were idolized and kissed and sought after for mystical purposes. We want Christ, not images of Him. We went to the place where Jesus was born in a little cave where a star with fourteen points was adorned on the floor (fourteen points of the star because of the fourteen generations from Abraham to Jesus Christ) and the little place across the room where the manger stood two thousand years ago. Then we went to the inn that was a cave carved from bedrock – an amazing feat. And although I was highly disturbed by the idolatry taking place and the plagues of Islam in this place, I was also amazed. The incarnation was real, it was powerful, it reconciled us to the Father, and ultimately, the crucifixion and the resurrection, which saved me, resulted from the incarnation (which was in the works from eternity to eternity). And because of that, I shall not become despondent over the empty feeling of this place. I get to rejoice because the Lord now dwells within us – we are His holy temple and the intimacy of having Him dwell in our hearts beats any idea of a physical place. I’m also amazed because the Lord chose Bethlehem, the least of places, to dwell. In the same way, the Lord chose me, the least of people, to dwell. Oh, praise the Lord, my soul!
Church of the Nativity captured by Lindsey Ponder.