Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to participate in an interactive Nativity experience. Aside from the insanely long wait - it was a very neat experience. I left so completely exhausted that I haven't even really processed everything in my mind. This is my attempt to do so -
Note: It wasn't very conducive to take pictures with three little ones and so many other people around - but we did take a couple. Above, sheep in a pen in the marketplace of Bethlehem and below - the stable scene.
Upon arrival, we were assigned a tribe - the tribe of Benjamin. And, names and occupations. My name is Abigail for the evening and I assist my husband in his profession of tent-making. In my hand, I held my citizenship papers and a coin to pay my taxes. I knew that the Roman Centurions awaited.
A soldier burst in to the tent our tribe was in and startled my sweet baby to tears (Samuel was in the wrap) - at first I was very upset. How dare a "pretend" soldier come in and scare my children. I don't want them to remember this experience as frightening. Then in my heart, I paused and realized that no soldier in that circumstance would have done any different. Jews were all the same to the Romans and so they told us over and over. Staring us down, speaking brashly and hurrying everyone along or stopping us at their will. I had a tiny glimpse of what it felt like to be belittled for what you believe, for being a despised people - regardless of age.
They told us we were like sheep - smelled like sheep - acted like sheep and how foolish we were for being "dreamers" and following to Bethlehem in hopes of seeing a baby prophesied 800 years previous.
The soldiers moved us along at their desired pace through the woods. We were traveling to Bethlehem to pay our taxes and to be counted for the census. Along the way, we saw Scripture come to life as we watched an angel appear to Mary, Mary's visit with Elizabeth and Joseph's dilemma regarding what to do regarding their circumstances, the wise men planning their journey and Herod's evil plan to kill all males two and under - I clutched my little Samuel a bit tighter and struggled to explain to Emily who wondered why he would do that.
We moved through the woods - it was dark and late. We must cross the Sea of Galilee to reach Bethlehem. So, we boarded a boat and crossed the "sea" ~ the soldiers talked of lightening the load and tossing someone over (of course, they did not!).
Citizenship papers were scrutinized and some were questioned about their identity when we arrived at the other side. Roman soldiers towered over us on large white horses whose noses were above my head. Arrogant, uncaring and self-centered, the soldiers ruled by generating fear in those under them and they let you know you were under them.
We saw a scene of Zachariah being unable to talk and still we traveled on to Bethlehem. Each of us were tightly clutching our citizenship papers and coin for taxes. We knew we would not be able to get into Bethlehem without it. Some of our tribe talked of trying to overtake the soldiers - I think this was more of a modern day idea as I'm not sure it would have worked out very well in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
Finally we were at the gates of Bethlehem where a greedy tax collector was arrogantly counting his coins and demanding his pay. It was at this point we were required to surrender our citizenship papers and pay our tax upon entering Bethlehem. There were people everywhere, the town was brimming with out of town visitors.
We found ourselves immediately in the marketplace, each one trying to sell us his/her wares. One was selling doves for the sacrifice, another fish or salt, there was a woodcarver, potter, etc... And, we found ourselves outside the inn where the innkeeper informed us he had no room. He offered food and drink, but nothing more. As each merchant worked at selling me their wares, I realized I had no money - I had just spent all I had to get to Bethlehem and pay my tax. One offered to sell me a candle for my baby - unthinkable to me - but would someone in Bethlehem have considered such an offer?
Through the marketplace again, we saw sheep, chickens, ducks, small ponies, candle makers and herb/spice sellers. Exiting Bethlehem at the other side, we found ourselves in a big open field where a fire crackled warmly. We gravitated to the fire and nearly stepped on two sleeping shepherds who lie nearby. They were unhappy that we were there and disturbing their precious sleep. Suddenly, they received a special visit from an angel declaring that they were invited to see God's Son - Jesus - who was in a stable nearby. We ran with them to hurry and find the place of the birth.
Oh, the stable - filled with hay. A young couple held a tiny baby. I wish it had been a quiet and reverent moment - could I kneel and worship Him too?
Lord, You came into a harsh place. The surroundings were unwelcoming in the least. The sacrifice made by God to send You - how can a father send his child into something so undesirable. Love.
How could You respond righteously in such surroundings? When treated as the lowest of the low by the Roman soldiers - You remained perfect and sinless. Love.
You came so humbly. So purely. So divinely. Only God in His infinite love and wisdom could have orchestrated such an event.
And, now, dear friends - I wonder if you have this perfect love in your heart and life? Admitting we need Him to take away our sins and allowing Him to do so, receiving His free gift of forgiveness and salvation - accepting Him - these are all we must do to have eternal life with Him.
Forever with Jesus.
Thank You, Lord, for letting me come afresh to the manger and experience You anew this year. For the opportunity to experience the closest thing I ever can to the night You were born into this world. It was a hard road - just as following You can often be. But, it was a good road - just as walking with You and being in the center of Your will is.