For many years, as Christmas approached, when I taught my classes, I would put a list of twenty five things on the board which were part of our Christmas festivities. These included everything from nuts and cookies to unwrapping presents, from parties to brightly lit trees, from Christmas movies to stockings filled by Santa. I would then ask them to narrow down the list to the top fifteen. What could they give up if the need demanded it? We would vote as a class and reduce the elements of Christmas one by one. “Take five more things off the list,” I would ask. Once again, more painfully now, the list was pared to the ten most important necessities. From ten we cut to five and finally to just three. Year after year, it never failed; I would always get the same three critical aspects of our Christmas celebration. What were they? Being with family and friends! The reading of the Christmas story in Luke Two! And singing Christmas carols heralding the birth of Mary’s child in Bethlehem!
I never thought when I was young that I would ever go to Bethlehem and now I have been there more than twenty times. Yet Bethlehem never loses its power to move my soul. I do n
ot think I have ever been there without feeling the tears trying to get out as part of the joy this city imparts. I used to visualize Bethlehem as it was depicted on a Christmas card someone sent to my mother when I was just a little boy. I can still see the wise men sitting with dignity and reverence on their camels on a hill gazing downward to the plain below where Bethlehem was lit by a single ray of light streaming from the star overhead. Had I not sung many times, “Far, far away on Judea’s plains, shepherds of old heard the joyous strain?” So I was much surprised to discover on my first visit to the Holy Land that the town is not on a plain but on the top of a hill with Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity dominating the horizon. I thought how appropriate this was.
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This article originally ran on December 21, 2011. It is sponsored by Fun For Less Tours.