Day 2 of the tour was heavy, from start to finish. We spent our morning at Tent for the Nations – a Palestinian Christian family’s “homestead” surrounded by five illegal Israeli settlements. We’ll have more on this from a “guest post” soon. Suffice it to say: we were able to experience the Palestinian struggle first hand and it was incredibly sad but powerfully inspiring.
After this, we took a little jaunt to the Herodion – Herod’s fortress outside of Bethlehem, which is currently ruins on the top of a man-made hill. It was so cool to stand on top of what was the fortress and be able to see Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea. We got to descent the fortress from the inside and walk through the tunnels which would have connected the fortress to the palace. We walked through multiple water sisterns and even saw the supposed site of Herod’s grave. Very cool.
From there, we went to the Shepherd’s Field, where the angel appeared to the Shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. In all honesty, I was expecting a simple field, but the area is built up with a beautiful chapel, (built by the same man who built the Dominus Flevit Church on Mount of Olives), that has small windows in the dome in which to see the sky. There is a midnight mass service here at Christmas and the night sky is viewable through the windows. Imagine that – sitting in a service and feeling as if you are a shepherd on watch the night of Jesus’s birth!
We next had lunch at Bethlehem Bible College followed by a lecture by a professor named Daniel. We learned about the struggle of the Palestinian Christians mostly in the area of Bethlehem but also around Israel and Palestine, about the occupation, and then about the important ministry that the university is doing. Aside from education, one of these is the Christ at the Checkpoint conference which focusses on reconciliation, peace, and God in the conflict. It was very educational and left us feeling hopeful: Daniel ended the lecture by saying that God is most definitely on the move!
After BBC, we went to the Church of the Nativity. Nothing could prepare me for this, in both positive and negative ways. The entire church, inside and out, is being renovated, so there was scaffolding everywhere…not exciting to see at such a special place. We also had to wait about 45 minutes to walk down under the alter, to the cave where Jesus is supposed to have been born. We learned that in those days, “manger” would have most likely been a cave since a woman giving birth would have been “unclean” and not welcome anywhere else. As I walked down under the alter, some women were singing “Joy to the World” and it felt so powerful to be standing at the location of Jesus’s birth, rejoicing! We also got to see some other caves at the church, where St. Jerome translated the Hebrew Bible to Latin. This was really special too.