“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7, NIV2)
In our day and age, especially in the Western world, pregnant women don’t need a reservation to deliver their baby. They are welcomed to a special wing of a hospital, and are well cared for. Imagine being in Mary’s shoes. No one had room for her and the delivery day was imminent! Jesus truly was not welcomed on our planet. At His birth, or even throughout His entire life (See John 1:11). Instead of a sanitary room, delivery had to take place in a manger, with animals being the only witnesses.
But then, in life there are many places that make us feel unwelcome. Some places only welcome us if we have the necessary funds, like amusement parks for kids. Have you ever noticed how small the layout of the admittance gate is? Narrow is the road to admittance! Notice also the fence with barbwire on the top that surrounds the entire park, just like a prison. And we are supposed to have fun in such circumstances!
Scrutiny is tough as well: no ticket, no entry, no matter how desperate you are. If you have a ticket, you still have to go through security. First a metal detector, followed by a manual security check. Are we truly welcome in amusement parks?
On the other hand, Jesus did not come to earth to have fun, but to save, so that we could experience eternity in true peace and happiness. No fence and barbwires required! Still to be born in a manger was his only reception in Bethlehem.
How different Bethlehem is today. It now has about six large, comfortable hotels, which are a low-priced alternative to lodging in Jerusalem. There is now room in Bethlehem!
But even though the rooms are much less expensive than in Jerusalem, there is a hidden cost: Bethlehem is completely enclosed by the ill-famed security fence, a bit like the Western amusement parks. No taxi will drive you there. You have to disembark and walk through on foot in hot, sweltering weather. Luckily the checkpoint is operated by bored young soldiers who seem more interested in their phones than anything else. No one has any trouble getting through, especially tourists.
Once through, you find yourself surrounded by men offering their services as tour guides and taxi drives all at the same time. That’s where we become easily confused. It’s true that a ride is the best way to get to know Bethlehem, but if you don’t know where you are going, you may end upon a very long, expensive journey.
Like anywhere in the Middle East, prices have to be negotiated before taking services. If you have no experience with that, you are in big trouble!
One of the thrills of taking a ride is that the driver will tell interesting stories of his own. That’s where you start to appreciate the culture. Naturally, a visit to the Church of Nativity is a must, an impressive edifice containing a peculiarly small door (Maybe in reference to Matthew 7:14), where a gold star is embedded on the floor to indicate the exact spot where Jesus was born. It seems the stable has changed into an immense church! Unless this is not the right spot . . .
Outside the church you find yourself in Manger Square where you will find restaurants, cafes, guesthouses, an information centre, and let us not forget a mosque. Beyond Manger Square is the Old City, typified by cobblestone streets (My favorite!), lined with numerous souvenir shops, and eventually you end up in the bustling Arab market.
Interestingly enough, many Palestinians are concerned about having a negative reputation abroad. But truly they have nothing to worry about. Most Palestinians are eager to give a warm welcome to anyone they encounter. Quite often tourists are invited for tea or coffee (Sorry no Sprite!) by shopkeepers, where you can truly get to know the friendliness of these people who love to chat, or if you so desire, to entertain deep discussions. True it’s good for business, but more often than not, tourists find themselves invited at the homes of these shopkeepers and are introduced to other friends as well.
Strange that in a place where there was no room for Jesus, hospitality is the norm today. Anyone would feel right at home there. Maybe they have learned something from the One who was born in a manger . . .
(To access the entire “Christmas for the Brokenhearted” devotional series, please click here.)