Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas and Bethlehem

I've been to Bethlehem several times, even on Christmas day. I've entered the Church of the Nativity and waited in the line to go down into the grotto where it is believed that Jesus was born. In the grotto it is usually quiet except for the clicking of cameras. Many of the visitors reach back into the cave to touch or kiss the silver star which is supposed to be the place where Mary and Joseph laid the Christ child. When I'd leave the grotto there were often several groups singing Christmas carols. It was beautiful as they sang in various languages. When I'd leave the Church of the Nativity into Market Square, I was always surrounded by small boys tugging on my sleeve and blocking the entrance into our tour bus hoping that I would purchase their souvenir postcards.

I'm usually turned off by the large crowds and the commercialization, especially around religious settings. However, I've also wondered if this might not have been what it was really like when Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem. They were there because they had to be "enrolled" along with others who were from that lineage. So, I suspect there were crowds in Bethlehem that first century. So crowded that there was no room in the inn. Wherever there are crowds, there are usually folks who are trying to make a living by selling their various goods. There must have been noisy commercialization in Bethlehem that first century. Maybe it is my romantic images of Christmas and Bethlehem that are unrealistic. The significant issue is not what was happening in Bethlehem back in that first century but, rather, what is happening in my life today.

Christmas and the Schwinn bicycle

I don't recall how old I was but it was a wonderful Christmas. My father worked at Kib Warren's in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Kib Warrens was a furniture/hardware store where they sold bicycles and toys during the Christmas season. The store carried Schwinn bicycles. They had a great one on the floor. It had red fenders with leather strips coming out of the handle bar grips. It even had a shock absorber connected to the front wheel. I admired it for a long time and wanted it for Christmas. Dad said that he didn't think Santa Claus could get it in his bag and down our chimney. I now know that our chimney was just a flue for the old Heatorola that sat between the living and dining room and warmed our entire five room house. Christmas that year was messed up anyway because I developed a terrible cold or something. I remember having to stay in bed while covered with a sheet-tent into which was being pumped warm, moist air from the nearby humidifier. I remember being sick enough that Dr. Combs came by the house to visit me and he gave me a shot of something. It was a lousy Christmas. However, on Christmas morning, after Santa Claus had visited, I left my sick bed to discover that Santa had left me that Schwinn bicycle with the red fenders and leather strips coming from the handle bar grips. Talk about a miracle--Santa got that bicycle down our chimney. However, the biggest miracle was that my Dad and Mom let me ride my new bicycle around the block. They made me put on a heavy coat and a sock cap over my pajamas, Momma put something all over my chest and neck that smelled awful and, then, away I went around the block. After a Christmas like that then of course I believe in Santa and parents who know that there are some things in life that are just more important than being sick. Have a Merry Christmas.