Having just returned from Israel the educational realities of travel have struck me again. A trip like this brings texture to the two dimensional, black and white photos most of us create when we read the text of the Bible.
We visited the church of the Nativity filled with hundreds of people anxious to see the cave beneath the altar, where Jesus was born, causing a wait that would make Disney’s busy season seem trivial.
The church is claimed by three different denominations, which adds to the confusion. And having been into the cave once a long time ago I really could not recommend the wait that was being endured by the throng.
Emerging from the tiny door of the church entering “Manger Square” we were greeted by an enormous plastic Christmas tree sitting under the shadow of the Manger Square Mosque.
As you try to imagine this I expect that it is causing a little disruption in your minds eye. Having been there a week ago it still leaves me a bit disoriented.
To cap it all off the little town of Bethlehem, the church of the Nativity and Manger Square are all in the Palestinian territories behind a wall separating them from Jerusalem just to the North East.
But this kind of disruptive picture is Christmas! We celebrate the entrance of God into time, or even more astounding into flesh and to disrupt things even more into the womb.
NOW THAT’S DISORIENTING!
I love Christmas American style; but I rarely take the time during this most amazing of celebrations to consider these disruptive elements.
I think being in that church this year reminds me that the world is trying to figure out how to relate to Jesus. Do we stand in a line to venerate His place of birth? Do we buy a gift to celebrate the birthday of the King of Kings? Do we give special attention and value to our family because they are why He came?
Yes. We do all of this and more. But no matter how big our box we will never be able to fit Jesus into it. But written on the walls of an insane asylum is the greater description of the “why” if not the “what” of Christmas. And perhaps that is the reorientation we need.
“Could we with ink the ocean fill. and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry; Nor could the scroll, contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.” (Adapted as the third verse in the song – “The Love of God”, F.M. Lehman)