Living in the land of Jesus's birth, life, death and resurrection can spoil a person. It can ruin one's perspective and make living out the Christian life anywhere else seem a bit mundane at times. It can also change a person, and create memories and experiences that will stay with them forever.
On Christmas Eve 2007, our family of five spent time across the Separation Wall, on the West Bank of Israel, singing songs about Jesus and praying for peace with other believers. We did not go to where the party was, in Bethlehem, where the light first dawned and Jesus was first placed in an animal's trough. We were in Beit Sahour, or "Shepherd's Field," where it was believed the nomadic sheepherders tended their sheep.
From where we stood, singing in Hebrew, in Arabic and in English, we could see the lights of Bethlehem, but we stood nearly completely in the dark, excepting one fire, in the middle of our little circle.
There are people who happily embrace God's grace and forgiveness. Who are easily able to shed the "sinner" and walk as a "saint" made possible of course only by God. I don't mean self-righteous people, I just mean those lucky people who see God's outstretched hand and gift and say "hey, cool..thanks!" I, on the other hand, have a hard time with the free gift of God's love and grace. I see myself as fallen, and imperfect, and it pains me. I know I can never earn God's favor, and there are days when I struggle to accept it. I know I cannot walk into heaven on my own two feet, but only on the back of the one who bore my sin on a cross. But that humbles me to my knees and if God were to come today I wonder if I wouldn't hide from Him. This is my confession.
On Friday, 20 small children, most of them 6 years old, were brutally killed. In Sudan, and in Syria, in many regions in our world, parents watch their children suffer and die. Children watch as their parents are murdered. There is war, famine, child soldiers, genocide, school shootings, domestic violence. It is heartbreaking, sickening, horrifying. This world has a lot of darkness and pain, none of it is easy to accept or to explain. What amazes me is that the bible says that Jesus came not despite the darkness here, but because of it. He sees those of us, like me, who some days want to sit in the dark where we feel we belong, and God says "no."
He sent a host of angels to reveal to the outcasts of society, those shepherds in the darkness, that God was here. That He was born to us, to save us from ourselves. He said "come to Bethlehem and see for yourselves!" He invited them to join in the party and to rejoice and find hope. I wouldn't have traded that time in Beit Sahour for anything, and modern-day Bethlehem on December 24 resembles Mardi Gras more than the simple, first celebration of a baby's birth. However, this season I want to accept the fact that though we don't deserve it, though we humans are all unclean, we are all outcasts, God has announced His presence to us. He invites us into the story, to come to Him. Although I put my trust in God 20 years ago, I still have days when I wake up and have to say, "I will go and see. I will accept that You love more than I can fathom. " How long will we wait in the field before we go down to Bethlehem?