Friday, October 15, 2010

The Holy City's Messiah and Bethlehem's Lamb...

This morning we gathered to see King David's tomb, which is not mentioned in Scripture, but is a traditional site whose location has been known through the centuries. It was hidden, evidently, during times of persecution, and brought back after Constantine made Christianity legal.
It is Friday, and at sundown, all orthodox Jews celebrate Shabbat. We walked through the orthodox section of the old city, mingling with families and singles alike who were rushing to prepare for their holiday. Filling the large square were Hassidic men with black hats and side curls, and married women with hair artfully hidden with a scarf who were hurrying their little yarmulka-clad boys and long skirted girls to their destination. Evidently, there is much to do before sundown.
We were given a few minutes to spend at the Western, or Wailing Wall, which runs along the side of the original temple where the Holy of Holies would have been situated. Women on the right, men on the left...each had their place. As Olivia and I walked up to the wall, we noticed many orthodox women saying their prayers as they swayed back and forth. Evidently, that helps with memorization of a passage. On closer inspection, we saw small bits of paper stuck in the crevices of the stone. These were prayers that visitors had left in hopes they would be answered. I was able to reach the wall after others had left, and, placing my hand on the cold stone, prayed that many Jews would see the light of the Gospel and embrace it. Our tour guide, Chen, knows so much Scripture, making connections between Old and New Testaments. He finds it uplifting and full of truth, but still sees Jesus as a righteous prophet and teacher. Pray that he someday will come to know His Messiah as Savior and Lord.
I was feeling guilty for not bringing my scarf today, so I asked Chen if it would offend the orthodox to put a prayer shawl or tallit on my head instead. I had been wanting to purchase one anyway, even tho' men wore them around their waists. He answered quite seriously: "If you were to walk in the Orthodox section of the old city with it on your head, the women would stone you. And if they didn't kill you, the men would finish the job." Case closed!
For the last twenty years or so, there have been archeologist digging tunnels along the foundation of the present old city, directly under and along the Western Wall. We had the privilege of taking a tour of a portion of the tunnel, which brought us to the level of the street during Herod's time, which is exactly where Jesus would have walked! This was the highlight of our day.
Next, we exchanged drivers and tour guides, and crossed over the border into the West Bank to see Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. Well, we saw the STAR on top of the place where Jesus was born. Actually, the CHURCH that housed the STAR that marked the place where Jesus was born. For an hour and a half we stood sweating and hungry inside a stuffy Byzantine turned Crusader's church in a queue to see this spot where Jesus lay...and Jack didn't even build it! I think the Holy Family would be puzzled at this commemoration of the birth of the Christ Child. Churches house amazing works of art, but most folks on our tour would tell you that this was a very trying experience.

Well, it was a test of patience and fortitude...that's what we get when we "go back to Egypt"! Bethlehem is on Palestinian territory, so they did not allow our Israeli guide/driver to lead us. We were back with the familiar, "one dollar for cold water," or, "necklaces, five for ten dollars," or "postcards for a dollar, Miss".
It's such a relief to be back in Israel. We feel so safe and's a different world. There is a feeling of peace, order and purpose here, instead of chaos.
Our last stop was the site of the home of John the Baptist, or, more accurately, his father, Zechariah's home. It was exactly five miles from the center of town, in a beautiful terraced area in the hills with trees and flowers. Many present day artists live and work here to find the inspiration they need to create. Scripture says in Luke 1:39, that Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth's home in the hill country for encouragement, because she, too, was pregnant with a child...John the Baptist.
We were all dragging, and so were relieved to finally arrive at our hotel. A Shabbat meal was prepared for us, and we noticed a number of orthodox families waiting in the lobby to gather for a celebration. Two of the elevators in our hotel were on Shabbat mode, which meant they stopped at each of the 18 floors, so no one needed to press a button. Remember that no work is allowed on this day of rest.
A rest sounds more than welcome tonight...Shabbat Shalom!

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel