by Mark Kitts, guest contributor to Bible Lands Explorer
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of ALL the years are met in Thee tonight.
Christmas is special this year. Every song I hear with a mention of Bethlehem is new again! Why? Because my wife and I were in Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. We visited the traditional site of Jesus's birth.
It was surreal.
Outside, an angry crowd protested brutal injustice. Guards with machine guns and military vehicles were at major intersections. And, of all things, just as we were walking into the church Marine One flew overhead as the President of the United States was visiting Israel that day. Signs of political, economic, racial, and spiritual strife were everywhere.
Yet inside the church a long line of people from all over the globe shuffled in to experience the place where God entered humanity. In order to see “the spot” one must bend down to get through a short doorway. To actually touch the silver star marking the location of Jesus birth, I had to kneel on all fours next to some sweaty people I didn’t know.
It was a profound, holy moment.
In order to meet the Prince of Peace and have peace with others, I must be willing to kneel before Jesus and empty myself of me. I was also sweaty and foreign to the Nigerian man crawling next to me. I appreciated anew how the Light shines in dark streets. Our hopes and fears are met on our knees, together, at the manger in Bethlehem.
Peace is needed everywhere, but desperately so, even now, in that little town.
Like many good pilgrims to the Holy Land, we bought some handmade olive wood carvings of the nativity. We were pleased to know that these carvings were made by Palestinian Christians who are struggling to live in a land divided. The day we bought our mementos the shop was officially closed. A group of militant Muslims went around with clubs demanding shop and restaurant owners to close for the day in protest. We were able to shop only because our guide was a long-time friend of the shop owner who sneaked us in. Whew!
Our beautiful olive wood nativity has been added to our festive decorations. I will never look at a nativity the same again--because I was there. We traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. We saw shepherds and their sheep just outside of town. We stood in the ruins of Herod’s Palace nearby. And I sat on the first century steps leading up to the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph must have passed with their eight-day-old baby.
I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem . . . Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth.
I’ve started a new Christmas tradition this year. When we put out our nativity sets (we have several!), I pray for peace in my own life and our family. And when we set out this nativity from Bethlehem I pray the whole world, especially in the Middle East, would come to know this good news about great joy and peace found in Jesus.
Much love to you at Christmas and always,
Mark (and DeeDee) Kitts
Mark Kitts is a church planter, entrepreneur, father, and traveler. He and his wife DeeDee reside in St. Cloud, Florida.