“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7
Although I tried to go to Israel with no expectations, the thought of seeing the place of Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection was exhilarating! As I thought about going to Bethlehem, I pictured a quaint, quiet village, similar to some of farming towns outside of our community here in NE Florida.
I am smiling as I type this because my expectations were far from reality! First, Bethlehem is dirty, and cramped. Our excellent bus driver navigated the crowded streets with great care–and bravado! We were dropped off in a parking garage and began our uphill ascent through a busy street where shopkeepers beckoned, quite persistently, and cars fought for space on the narrow road as people crisscrossed in haphazard fashion. One huge building contained a KFC…yes, Kentucky Fried is in Bethlehem!
We followed the sidewalk, and our trusty guide, up the sidewalk and came to a monstrous building…The Church of the Nativity. As with many of the Holy sites in Israel, there are actually several churches occupying the space. These churches, many built just a few hundred years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt. This church, however, was spared destruction on one occasion by the Persians who, as legend would have it, saw a mural of the Magi–who were also Persian– and decided to let the church stand. The church, however, is not like any church one might visit in your home town. This church is a shrine, a tourist attraction, a holy site, all in one.
Guards by the door inquired about our tour group and purpose for coming. After a few minutes of back and forth between the guards and our guide, the “Christian women’s tour group from America” entered the church building. This beautiful expanse of architecture is impressive, to say the least, but it is difficult to imagine that you are entering into the area that once was a small, quaint village where an innkeeper had a stable and a manger to share with weary travelers.
Making it down the stairs, we entered into the place where Jesus was born and then, turning around, the manger, a little room nearly hidden from view. Both sites have been enshrined, but in the midst of the ornate nature of the decorations, there is simplicity. Now, of course, we were not the only tour group there that day, so almost immediately, other tour groups began to file into the small space where we were standing.
There we were…we journeyed all the way to Bethlehem and found that there was no room for us!
There were many times on our trip that we found ourselves having to compete for physical space. In fact, our tour guide would often tell us to look for a small space, move in and “occupy” it- to create room where there seemed to be no room. We would have to fight to clear physical space, but also spiritual space. Many times, the crowds, the noise, the busy schedule would seem to push out the “experience” we were trying to have. That advice that our guide gave us would prove to be useful not just with getting “rock star seating” at a holy site, but it also would be the way I would have to be in creating room in my mind to experience Jesus. I would have to look for a small space, a simple moment on which to focus. I would have to move into it mentally and allow it to “occupy” my thoughts. At each holy site, I had to make room to be with Jesus…to allow him to enter into the small space of my heart and mind…to occupy it and fill it.
It occurs to me now that this is actually a daily process for me. My life is full of dirty dishes and crowded places. There are many things that occupy my days, my thoughts, my schedule. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have enough room for Jesus…it takes work to look for, move into, and take the space I need for Him….after all, He can do great things with small, cramped, and even dirty places. In Bethlehem, God took a small space and moved in. Jesus came into a small, dark, crowded space where there seemed to be no room. He did this in a manger in a small but crowded village and he can do it in our hearts as well.