People of St. George’s, I have a confession to make: I sang two Christmas hymns today. Yes, you read that right.
I better start at the beginning. This morning we went to Ein Kerem, the town that has the Church of the Visitation and the Church of John the Baptist. Visitation refers to the place commemorating Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in the Judean hill country, after Mary found out she was pregnant. On these big tiles outside the church the Magnificat is written in any number of different languages. We read it in English in the presence of other groups reading it in other languages.
The church of John the Baptist is the site that celebrates John’s birth. The Song of Zechariah is written on tiles outside of that one, again in many languages. My favorite part of that church was a very cool icon of John the Baptist. He’s frankly never been my favorite, but I loved this particular icon.
We couldn’t get to the Field of the Shepherds, which celebrates the angels appearing to the shepherds in the birth story from Luke. We did though get to Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It reports to be the cave Jesus was born in and the stone manger he was laid in. That place was a mob of people; our guide said there were 2-3 times as many people as he had ever seen at that site. We saw Byzantine mosaics, then waited in the very very long line to get down to the cave.
Like Holy Sepulchre, it is the Greek Orthodox, Franciscans, and Armenians who have the rights to the place. Practically what this means is that the roof hasn ‘t been repaired for 700 years. Apparently the groups can ‘t agree with each other about much of anything. Just six months ago – after 700 years- they finally started roof repairs. So we saw a lot of scaffolding.
After a ling wait and a very brief moment in the cave area as they were closing the church and shooing people out, our group gathered in the courtyard to read the scripture accounts of Jesus’ birth. This is when we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silent Night. The best thing about that? The next time I sing them it will be Christmas Eve, and I will remember being in Bethlehem at the place of our Savior’s birth.