The bitter cold bit my cheeks as I walked through the packed parking lot toward the entryway of the Kelso-Longview Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, anxiously awaiting my journey to Bethlehem…
Christmas trees greeted me in the foyer as I waited restlessly for my group number to be announced. Meanwhile, I talked with friends and listened to the many musicians and singers who performed various Christmas songs and hymns.
After two hours of impatient waiting, the group and I get to go on our journey:
A Jewish man pulled the black curtain aside and excitedly invited the group to embark on the “ninety mile” journey to the city of Bethlehem. He, along with his cousin Sarah, handed out small scrolls (the taxes) and explained to us that we must travel to Bethlehem to pay our taxes to Caesar. Also, if any Roman soldiers were to stop us, the group was to respond that they were of the family of David and they were from Nazareth.
After walking down a path lit with torches, we passed a small camp of lepers, crying “unclean!” and begging for mercy. It was a very pitiful, sad, and disturbing sight.
We came across a tent and asked if we could take shelter there. After a woman passed around a small basket of crackers to the group, Gamaleel, a scribe, opened a scroll, and read to us a verse from Isaiah about awaiting the prophesied birth of the Messiah. After he explained the importance of the text, we thanked the residents for their hospitality, and continued on our journey.
We passed an old man, begging for alms, and came to the gates of Bethlehem. The Jewish man told the group that they were going to encounter the Roman soldiers soon, and that we were not to resist them.
A Roman soldier guarding the entrance was snapping his whip, demonstrating his brute force. When the Jewish man asked permission to enter the city, the soldier yelled at him saying that the city was full because of the census, and commanded us to leave. The Jewish man humbly offered him a coin, nearly begging him that they enter the city. The soldier took the coin and eyed it selfishly. He then reluctantly, but harshly shouted, “All right! But move along!”
I passed through the gates and dozens of sights, sounds, and smells met me. As I traveled through the city, I was tempted by venders and merchants, who crowded the streets, shouting – attempting to lure me to buy their products.
People, as well as animals crowded the streets. There were sheep, rams, doves, a donkey, and even a camel!
We hurried along until we come to an inn, hoping to seek shelter there. But the innkeeper laughed at us saying, “How many of you do I have to turn away?” He turned toward me and declared, “I don’t even have enough room for you in my stables!”
Disappointed, the Jewish man led us away to travel through the streets until we came along a group dancing to music. When asked why they were celebrating, a woman playing the tambourine said it was because God had been good to them and that they had a successful crop that year. We joined in the happy assembly, clapping along with the music, until a Roman soldier interrupted and demanded who we were and what our business was in Bethlehem. After explaining our situation, we were commanded to pay our tribute to Caesar.
A centurion on a horse appeared from the shadows and he commanded that the group be formed into two lines and face him so he could “keep an eye on [the] peasants.” The horse’s head was almost right next to mine and I had never been that close to a horse before. I could barely resist the urge to pet its nose. However, I knew that if I had petted it, the soldiers would have yelled at me.
After entering a large tent, hearing a speech from the tax collector, we payed our taxes, and emerged out of the city. Walking along, we came across shepherds sitting next a small campfire, when suddenly a woman dressed in white and gold appeared on the top of a large boulder and proclaimed to the shepherds that a Savior had been born and that they would find the baby in a manger. We followed the shepherds to a small cave to observe Mary and Joseph huddled over their precious baby, the Savior.
After the Jewish man and his cousin thanked the group for accompanying them on their journey and leave, we departed from the era of two thousand years ago and entered the present, where hot apple cider awaited us…