My oldest son, James, and I went to Israel and Egypt in January of 2015. It was for me a transformational trip. All of my life I had heard and read and studied the stories of the Bible but now, for two weeks, I was able to see where these stories had actually taken place. St. Jerome (d. 420AD), who lived in Bethlehem for 30 years translating the Bible into Latin, said that the land of the Bible is the fifth gospel. I think that Jerome hit the nail on the head. Let me share with you some of my highlights.
On our first night we arrived in Tiberias after dark and with rainstorms all around us. The next morning I looked out our motel window onto the beautifully deep blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. As the storms moved off to the east and we drove north along the western shore, a rainbow appeared over the lake, blessing us with the promise of a great visit to the holy land.
Later that morning we visited the site of ancient Capernaum. After he had moved from Nazareth this was Jesus’ home town. One of my favorite Bible stories is the healing of the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1-10). The love that the centurion showed for his servant was a beacon of hope in a cruel world and the faith that the centurion showed in Jesus is an inspiration for us still today. This story took place in Capernaum and you can still see the remains of the synagogue that the centurion helped build for this community.
The next day, as we drove from the coast into the hill country, the cold drizzle turned into a light snow. We entered Jerusalem and went to Mount Scopus where we could look across the Kidron valley to the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. As we took and posed for pictures it began snowing harder until finally the Dome of the Rock faded out of view. We woke in the morning to snow-covered Jerusalem and our first stop of the day was an equally snow-covered Bethlehem. In the Church of the Nativity we moved with the crowd down into the grotto to see the Star of Bethlehem (the place where Jesus was born). Our group moved to the back of the grotto and read the Christmas story and sang Joy to the World.
Four days later I joined two young pastors from Tennessee in exploring the Old City. One of the young men had been in Jerusalem before, so he guided us through the Damascus Gate and past the Western Wall to the entrance to the Temple Mount. We got to see the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. This is where the first and second Jewish temples stood before they were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans. We then went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (I prefer the Greek Orthodox name – the Anastasis or Church of the Resurrection). There are no crowds this early in the morning and we can take our time to meditate and pray as we visit Calvary and the Tomb.
As you travel through The Holy Land
And see with your own eyes the places you have read about in the Bible
Your heart will be greatly moved
And you will be awed and humbled by what God has done for you
Through your Savior, Jesus Christ.
And if you ask him, Jesus will come and walk with you
Through this adventure and every other adventure of your life.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.