Israel Trip – 8
Today we descended to the depths of humanity and divinity, the place where God reached down to man, where the word of God was born in Jesus of Nazareth. To get there, we had to travel through some of the worst pain that humanity as ever inflicted on each other—the Holocaust.
We awoke to a cold and blustery day. We’ve been blessed with mild weather so we couldn’t complain about a little chill. Our Tallahassee friends are definitely feeling winter. The rain and wind this morning set the tone for the schedule. We departed the hotel and traveled to the Israeli museum. Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed here, and we viewed a scale model of the first century city of Jerusalem.
We then traveled to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum. Shaped in the form of a triangular tunnel, the building leads down to the prison camp of Auschwitz and ascends to a view overlooking present-day Jerusalem. It’s hard to put this experience into words, and I’m always touched by what I see, hear, and feel. I’ve been to Dachau and Buchenwald, but this museum encapsulates the story of the Shoah (“the affliction” or “calamity”) as Jews experienced it. The Nazis executed many others, but 6,000,000 Jewish people bore the worst of it. Amazingly, some Jews did survive the horror. The ones who were given the opportunity to survive had to choose life, to maintain hope, and to do things that violated their Jewish religious laws in order to make it through the horrendous experience. We bear the burden of witness today.
Afterward, we continued our descent. We traveled to the West Bank/Palestinian city of Bethlehem for lunch. By the time we arrived, the sun had broken through the clouds. Passing through the walls that surround the city, we were reminded of the pain of the 2000-2005 uprising in this area that killed so many people. Bethlehem today is a safe place for all pilgrims to come. We were greeted with a warmly by a Romanian Christian guide. After lunch we toured the Church of the Nativity. As you may have read in the news, the Orthodox Church is renovating the facility. Phase one has begun—a new roof. (Even 4th century A.D. churches need capital campaigns.) The crowds were unusually light today, so we were able to spend time seeing and experiencing the church in ways I have not been able to do previously. We saw the fourth century mosaics underneath the present church that were laid at the time of construction. We walked down the steps into the cave where Jesus was born and held a short commemorative service on the other side of the cave wall. Dale Olsen played a medley of “Away in a Manger,” “Silent Night,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We concluded the day by shopping in a Bethlehem store.
Our pilgrimage took us from the heights of Mount Scopus, where our hotel is located, to the depths of the cave where God became man. Chesterton said that this is the place where the world was turned upside down, where heaven reached down under the earth and offered the greatest gift of all. In the place of darkness, the light of the world was born. The light that glowed from a Bethlehem cave guided Joseph and Mary, the magi, and us today.
The Bethlehem cave however would have been a dead end were it not for Jesus’ journey that led from Bethlehem, to Egypt, back to Nazareth, onto Capernaum, and finally up to Jerusalem. Tomorrow, we retrace his steps from the Mount of Olives to the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Only because Jesus left the cave and went to Jerusalem can we even begin to fathom the suffering that humans inflict on others—and the depths of God’s love for the world. Only through this sacrifice can we truly choose to live.