Sunday, December 13, 2009

Journey to Bethlehem

What is Christmas really? This is what hubby and I have been considering this season. We love our traditions, gatherings with friends, and decorations and baking, and yet, despite all these preparations, which can even be overwhelming at times, we are still left wondering what it was all about.

Hubby and I were not happy with how Christmas went last year, in that we felt like it just "happened" to us through the media and consumerism and we didn't feel like we communicated clearly to ourselves or our children the true meaning of the holiday and the significance of Christ's birth in our lives. We discussed and prayed how to change that this year, and we heard about something called The Journey to Bethlehem.

The Journey to Bethlehem is a 10 church, hour-long living Nativity tour hosted in our area. There are 325 actors involved and numerous livestock, including camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and doves. The host church has actually, permanently, built the entire city of Bethlehem and added authentic sets and clothing. It is living Biblical history at its finest!

Somewhat ironically for me, the history nut, I have never really been particularly interested in Biblical history, because I sort of compartmentalized it away from the context of Ancient Roman history. However, Journey to Bethlehem beautifully situated the birth of Jesus within the greater culture and brings it to life.
Our dear friends joined us with their children, 5, 3, & 1 for our journey, so there were lots of kids and family fun. We bundled up and headed out to the country to see about this production.
Upon arriving in the tour station, we met our "family" guides and being informed that we would need to travel as a family to Bethlehem to pay our taxes to Caesar, we entered into King Herod's palace where he discussed with his guards the danger of a threat to his throne in the form of a new baby king. Our family guide was instructed to take us all on to discover this new king and to come back and inform Herod of any danger. We were given a medallion to show the Roman guards at the gates to let us pass.
Our next stop was the tent of the traveling Magi. They told us of their studies and how they were seeking a Messiah.
They explained they were bringing gifts. Gold because the Messiah was a king.

Then they showed us the Frankincense and the Myrrh.
Next to the Magi's tent, were their camels, which they graciously invited us to pet. Camel hair is much, much softer than I ever would have believed!
We then went on to the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth. They were hosting a feast celebrating the birth of John. Here Zacharias shows our children the tablet where he wrote (in Koine Greek, no less) "He is name is John" and immediately his speech returned!
As we traveled the roads towards Bethlehem and we encountered many beggars and lepers crying "Unclean, unclean!" as we passed. We came up to the gates of Bethlehem and the Roman guards blocked our way. This particular soldier loved children and let both our boys hold his spear as our guide negociated our way inside the city walls using the medallion he was given by King Herod (a real brick castle wall too!).

Once inside the city walls, the market was bustling with merchants and Roman soldiers. Our family guides supplied us with coin marked with Caesar Augustus's head for our purchases and to pay our taxes. We began at the city synagogue with the Pharisees proclaiming that we would never see the Messiah and our travels had been in vain.
We tried to bargain for this donkey, but the seller wanted 30 coins and we simply didn't have enough money to purchase it and pay our taxes!

There were many, many merchants and stalls selling all imaginable sorts of things. There were fish sellers, goats, spinners, blacksmiths, potters and weavers. These merchants sold baskets and held out their coffee beans for the children to inspect.

Nathan and I stopped at the grain seller's to try some of the flat bread that had been prepared in the nearby bake oven and to check out all the different types of grain available. The bread was quite tasty and unleavened (of course)!
We came to the Inn, and the Innkeeper announced that due to the census, there was simply no room for our family at the Inn. We would have to go on.
We were ushered into the room of Cornelius, representative of Caesar and the man who would collect our taxes.
He spoke of Roman politics, the importance of the Roman Empire and how grateful we as Israelites should be for all the improvements Rome had brought to our land. He referred to taxes as our duty to Rome as our rulers.

The Roman soldiers protected Cornelius and obeyed his every command, even when our family did not have the required amount for the taxes and they drafted one of our party into slavery!

After some intense negociating, our guide signed for our family on the census scroll and we paid what taxes we had.
We left the gates of Bethelehem then and went out into the surrounding fields. The night was clear and cold and the stars were so vivid out in the country away from the city lights. We could perfectly see Orion's belt and sword. We came upon the shepherds who had penned their flocks up for the night.

We heard a loud "crack" and then suddenly a host of angels appeared in the sky, telling us to fear not and go to Bethlehem! Then they started singing Glory to God!

Our last stop, of course, was the manger of the baby king, where a very tiny (real) baby lay heavily swaddled in his mother's arms. A dove looked on and a donkey lay in the hay nearby. The kids were in awe of the baby and oblivious to the late hour.

We returned home with some coin souvenirs, and the hope of a new family tradition.

It was late, and we were all tired, so I wasn't sure of the impact on the kids until the next morning. Then, just as we were getting ready for church, Noah came in our room with his baby blanket over his head claiming he was an angel and said word for word, "Fear not; for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people; today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." And Nate piped up that Mary had the baby Jesus and he had petted the donkey she rode in on!

So when it comes down to it, Christmas is a story. A very powerful, life-changing, true story. This is what Journey to Bethlehem perfectly illustrated for our family, accessible (just as Jesus desires to be) even to the littlest ones because of its sheer reality. And in our modern lives with our Christmas lists, it can be so easy to lose sight of that story - the story of a baby, born in a manger, on a hillside out in the country, perhaps on a cold, clear night just like ours, when the angels sang.


Lauren said...

That is awesome! What a blessing, and a ton of fun.

Mrs. G said...

We attended this very same thing years ago when we lived in PA, we need to find one again! What a wonderfully new family tradition you've begun!

Rachel said...

what an amazing experience for your family

I thought I would finally comment, I have been blog stalking for awhile!

Love your blog

lissawi said...

Thanks Ladies! It was a lot of fun.

Welcome Rachel! Thanks for stopping by!