Bethlehem, Part 1
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord
appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with fear. The angel said to them, “Do
not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news
of great joy that will be for all the people. For today
in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is
Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant
wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
When I was planning our pilgrimage, I was not sure if we would be able to go to Bethlehem. I had read that the city where Jesus was born is under Palestinian control and could be tricky to get into on your own. Luckily, the Abraham Hostel provided a tour at a reasonable price and so I signed us up! We made three stops on this tour and I can’t do each of them justice in one post, so I’ll just do one at a time.
We went on a Friday morning and let me tell you I was so glad for the the bus driver, the tour guide and the group of people that were going with us. Our guide told us that if we went into Bethlehem straightaway from Jerusalem, we would have to cross through many checkpoints. Israelis are not allowed into Bethlehem and visitors are required to show their passports. Our driver took us in through a back way, skipping all of the checkpoints. We didn’t have to show our passports once, even though we did have them along. (He was Israeli, but I just did some research now and found out that there have been some Israel tour guides allowed in, thank God for that!). Coming into Bethlehem made me nervous. There is a wall separating Jerusalem and the Palestinian territory and the air just feels different there for some reason. We also heard (but never saw) military jets flying overhead. It was intimidating to say the least!
Anyways, we met up with our tour guide, who was Palestinian. Our bus driver said he would be with us, but he was not allowed into any of the churches (probably because he was Israeli). Our first stop was the Shepherds Field, the place the angels announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus. There is a beautiful, small chapel there with paintings of the angels and the shepherds. We also were able to go into the cave the shepherds lived in. It was very primitive, preserved to look just like it did 2000 years ago. Our guide allowed us time to pray and reflect in each of these spots. One of the cool things was to see a Franciscan Monk there praying as well. (The Shepherds Field is controlled by the Franciscans). Lastly, we went into the field where they kept their animals. Our guide pointed out the press they used to make olive oil. It dated back to the actual time of Jesus’ birth.
What struck me most in the Shepherds Field was the things I learned there. Maybe you already know these things, but I did not. It was no coincidence these were the ones God chose to tell about the birth of His son!
1. These particular shepherds were in charge of the newborn animals. I did not know that! Wow! God chose the men in charge of the newborns!!!! They were also very devout Jews (someone asked the guide this question). The angels only spoke to those who were believers, he said.
2. Shepherds were the media of the time. They were the ones who spread the word about important stuff. God wanted this news out and He knew these shepherds would get that done. ( I also did not know this!)
3. Lastly, (but not leastly) they were poor. The shepherds represented the fact that Jesus came for the poor as well as the rich. The Three Kings were to represent the wealthy and our guide explained that Mary and Joseph used the gifts they brought to the baby Jesus (gold, frankincense and myrrh) to trade in the market for the money they would need to flee to Egypt when King Herod started killing all those innocent baby boys. God definitely provided!
Walking through this field and praying in both the chapel and the cave was truly moving for me. I had never really spent that much time pondering the shepherds. It was neat to see how important their role actually was!