For the past 20 years a nearby town puts on the Bethlehem Trek. We were able to go to it this year. I was impressed at how this small town's volunteers keep the birth of Jesus alive, by acting it out on the streets, complete with live animals. I had to write out my experience and share it.
Saturday Dec 6 we were summoned by Cesar Augustus to return to the land of our fathers , King David, to be counted in a census and pay our taxes.
At 6 p.m. we arrived to join the line where it all began. The stars twinkled above on this clear night and the moon shone to light our way as we inched toward the door of the great hall (community center). In the distanced we could see the doors of the great hall open and group of travelers were ushered into a place of warmth before the door closed again.
Occasionally a servants would walk down the road and call out “Camel coming, make room”. Sometimes there was even a caravan of 3 or 4 camels, (cars).
Finally we stood on the steps of the great hall. We would be next. The doors opened and Dave and I were let in with the rest of our family, 4 teen girls, a mother, father, their 2 children and a few others.
The gate keeper gave us our Census paper, and said, “You are from the family of David. Most importantly , do not loose your Census paper. The Roman soldiers could demand it at any time.
If you loose it you will not be let in and not counted, and risk jail time.
You are family number two. Take off your coats, relax and, enjoy the carolers. When you see the servant holding up Roman numeral II, join your family at the back door. It should take about ½ an hour.”
The Mennonite choir sang carols to us and we sang carols with the Bethlehem choir. The majesty told us of the baby that was born that night to come save us all. The servant held up plaque number XIV, then XV and so on. How high did the numbers go, I wondered. The time pasted quickly. Dave said, “Number one, we’re next”.
Our small, but poor family gathered at the back where we met our sister and guide Naomi. Naomi greeted us and we greeted each other before we set out on our long journey to Bethlehem Naomi made sure we had our tax papers, she had the money for the tax collectors.
No sooner had began then we were met by a friendly guard. “Who goes there and where do you travel.”
“I am Naomi and this is my family. We are on our way to Bethlehem. Do you know how long it will take?”
“Many days, five or six. You best be on you way” answered the guard. We bid him goodbye and continued.
We met many people and saw wondrous things on our trek.
A young couple, Abigail and Zachariah invited us into their humble home for bite to eat. Their donkey waited outside to carry Abigail to Bethlehem for she was with child. Naomi politely declined their offer for we needed to hurry on.
"We are also going to Bethlehem, but we have not seen a star," Naomi said to the servant.
On the table in front of the 3 kings were gifts. One king spoke, "We have come from the east and are following the star, spoke about many years ago. We have come to worship the new born king and bring him these gifts.” They showed us the gifts; gold for a king, myrrh and Frankincense for his burial. Strange they would bring perfumes to prepare a body for burial to a new born baby. We warmed ourselves by their fire, bowed goodbye and continued.
Suddenly, in the heavens, a bright light shown and host of
angels sang 'Glory to God on The High'.
Beautiful, wonderful no words can describe it.
Along the road Roman solders, beat their swords upon their shields, "Halt! Show us your paper’s,” one stabbed his sword at the children and coarsely asked, “Is that your name on your paper.” Once they saw that are papers were in good order they allowed us to continue.
We came upon a Sheppard tending his flock.
The Sheppard greeted us. “I raise sheep for the Jewish sacrifice to our God. They must be perfect for God, no disease, sore or blemishes. “ The three in his pen looked plump and healthy with their thick winter wool coats, perfect for sacrifice.
With great excitement and joy the Sheppard continued, “While tending our flocks a brilliant host of angels appear in the sky singing “glory to God on high.” They told us 'fear not for we bring you good news. A baby was born in a manger who is the Messiah'. For generations we have passed on the story of the Messiah who will come to rescue us.” He looked puzzled. “We thought our Messiah would come as a man and rescue us from the tyranny of the Roman empire. He came as a infant baby.”
We bid him good-by and continued on our journey anxious to see the baby so many spoke of.
Finally we arrived at Bethlehem. The gate to the city was guarded by Roman soldiers.
“Who goes there.” one demanded.
Naomi , who had fallen behind the young girls stepped forward and said, “I am the head of the family and we are a few from the house of David.”
“If you are the leader, why are these people in front of you? You are not a very good leader.” The guard jabbed his sword at our teenage girls.
“Their legs are much younger than mine and walk faster than I do, sir,” quickly replied Naomi.
“Line up in single file, “ commanded the soldier. “Quickly!” We were tired and did not move quickly.
“Over there.” he pointed to a building with two officials. “They will stamp your papers and collect the taxes.” We filed through the gate.
Naomi stepped to the table. “How many have you,” asked the tax man.
“That will be 32 denaro.”
Naomi stammered, “ Sir I was told it would cost one dinaro, per person. I only have 16 dinaros. We are but a poor family, my family members have no money. I carry the purse for our family.”
The tax collector was probably tired too, for many people had come that day. “Step forward. Show me your papers so I may stamp them."
One by one we laid our paper on the table. I jumped when the guard’s sword came swiftly upon my sisters paper. “Upside down,” he shouted. She turned it the right way, got it stamped and we entered the market.
Merchants sold their wares in booths, along the road. Dressed chickens hung up and live ones in their cages at the poultry man’s stall. A lady was trying to sell three goats to a fellow traveler . I only saw two goats. Perhaps one was in the barn, or she was not being truthful, gouging the cost of goats due to the multitude of people.
“Fresh fish, get your fresh fish here,” called another vendor.
“These fish look frozen not fresh,” I said.
“The cold night air has frozen them.” The main selection looked to be large mouth bass, a local fish.
A young maiden across the lane sold grains, fresh fruit and vegetables. “I’m and hungry after this long journey, but I have no money. “ I told her.
She was sympathetic with me. “The Romans do take our money for their taxes.”
I moved on to the merchant with his copper pans and oil lamps. Compared to our clay pots back home these were well crafted and beautiful. Oh for a souvenir to bring back home, I wished. I kept moving and saw two ponies tied to a fence. Were they for sale or perhaps as travelers transportation?
Up above was the glow of a warm fire pit. A prophet greeted us. We warmed by the fire as he spoke. “I have great news to tell you. Follow the star,” he pointed to it. “and you shall find a baby in a manger. He is the messiah which was told in the book of Isaiah.”
The long journey and the many things we had heard along our travels, were true. Up ahead was the baby. Mary and Joseph quietly sat watching the baby Jesus asleep in the manger. We could not help but sing Away in a Manger. A lowly cow bedded down eating her grain on one side of the stable. A sheep looked on from the other side.
Our journey was almost at the end. Naomi told us the wonders of why Jesus came to this earth. We could find His peace if we worshiped Him like the Wise Men did.
At last we found rest in our hearts and in a inn, (the arena). It was crowded, but we were able to get a refreshment of hot chocolate and a cookie. The tables were full. A bench along the wall was comfort enough. A few of our neighbors were resting too. Talking to familiar people was a refreshment in itself after this long but joyous journey.
[From 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 this town was transformed as 900 people took the Trek to Bethlehem. The people had their house lights turned off. Mosquito torches were put in the snow banks to light our way. Huts and shelters were erected were the actors acted out their parts. Small fire pits were at each persons place to keep them warm. Animals we brought from local farms to set the stage. Fish were brought out of the freezers to stock the fish market. One house was covered in burlap and the front steps had a wooden painted cloud in front of it. When we walk by this house a light came on and the actors, angels, stood on the steps behind the cloud and sang 'Glory to God on High'. This town goes to a lot of work to bring the birth of Jesus home to our hearts.]
I pray you will find the peace that Jesus brings all year long.
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