Sunday, December 9, 2012

My favorite Christmas

I hope you don't mind a little spirituality on my part. I'm not very demonstrative in this way, 
but on this December Sunday afternoon, it feels appropriate. 

I love Christmas. Secretly, I’ve always thought I love it more than anyone. The music, the giving, the snow. I’ve always loved that my name means “Christmas child”. Growing up, my family made many priceless Christmas memories. Experiences I will cherish forever. 

Recently I was asked to recall my most special Christmas experience. How could I choose just one? But as I pondered, it was simple to decide. The Christmas experience that touched me the most was different from any other Christmas I’ve ever had. 

I was 20 and studying for a semester in Jerusalem. It was December and I was nearing the end of my time there. I had seen amazing things throughout the middle east. I had just returned from two weeks at the Sea of Galilee and I thought I was as spiritually full as I could be. 

One night, after dinner, we were asked to dress warmly and make our way to the buses.  We drove out into the night, out of the city, and into the darkness that surrounded Jerusalem. 

After driving several miles, the bus stopped in the total darkness and we were asked to step out. This was an unusual request as Israel is a dangerous place to explore in the nighttime.

We found ourselves in a simple field. Nothing but craggily bushes and rocks. We sat on the cold ground and waited. 

There was something special there. I couldn’t place it. Something calm but powerful. I let my eyes adjust to the darkness, wondering why we had stopped. 

A minute or so passed and a boy next to me pointed into the distance and whispered “Is that Bethlehem?”

We all looked at the small lights far in the distance. There were only a few. Bethlehem is much as it was was 2,000 years ago. Tiny and seemly insignificant. 

It slowly dawned on me, and the rest of my party, that we were sitting in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. The place of the greatest story ever told. 

As I gazed toward the tiny city, I heard the sound of bells and soon after footsteps. Slowing and shyly, a shepherd approached us. A real shepherd. He came out of the darkness to see why on earth a group of young Americans were sitting in the dark field where he was tending his sheep. He smiled and we could see he was missing a few teeth and his clothes looked like he’d sewn rags together for warmth. He had one sheep, wearing a bell, who stayed at his side, nuzzling it’s head into his protective hand.  

A few students spoke to him in halting arabic and I watched him. He looked no different from the shepherds I have imagined at the time of Christ. The humblest of people were the ones chosen to receive first the glad tidings. I looked into the sky and imaged how it would have been, to be a shepherd in this total darkness, and to witness an angel of the Lord come to proclaim the Savior's birth.

I closed my eyes, and let myself just feel the peace of the place. I felt a sharp pain in my ankle and I looked down to see I had placed my feet in a thorn bush. I’d seen countless thorn bushes in the months I spent in Israel, but this one was different. I looked at the huge inch long thorns and the way the vines curled in on themselves. I looked over at the peaceful city of Bethlehem. That quiet night of Christmas was the day when the world received it’s joy and hope. But one day, that tiny baby would grow to a man. One day He would receive a crown of these ugly thorns. Only a few miles away, He would die. For me. There, on that cold December night, surrounded by the evidence of the greatest life that was ever lived, I wept. 

Someone quietly began to sing Silent Night and we all joined in.  As we looked upon Bethlehem, there seemed to be no veil between us and the heavens at that moment. As the music swelled, I swore I could hear angels singing with us. 

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child
Holy infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar

Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ the Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour is born!

I have had marvelous Christmas experiences. But that night, across the world from all I knew and held dear, I experienced something I could never forget or deny. The Christmas story is so much more than a story. It is real. And the world would never be the same again. 


pandaandlion said...

This is beautiful. Once again, I think you could write a book. A memoir of your life. I am all for spiritual stories. :-)

Kristin said...

Incredible. Crying. Loved this so much.

Jennifer Bartley said...

This gave me the chills. Right at the singing of Silent Night. I could only imagine such a great experience, thanks for sharing it with us :)

Kathleen W. said...

What a moving story. I'm crying here, it's so touching and real.

LindsayBetes said...

Beautiful Natalie! :)

Amy F. said...

Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. What an moving experience.

Lisa B. said...

Thank you Natalie! Beautiful.

JCLS said...

What an amazing experience!

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