We got an earlier wake up call at 6am and left the hotel at 7:15am to get across the checkpoint before 8am. We were early and got into the Church of the Nativity before other tour groups arrived. No wait, no lines, we just walked up to the front of the church, walked down into the manger and then stood in the Nave all alone looking at the original Byzantine mosaic floors. 

The church is run by three denominations (which is a theme around some of the churches): Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The icons, candles, incense and procession all add to the mystery of what happened here 2000 years ago. Someone said, "Something special happened here..." 

The natural light streaming into the church created a "star of Bethlehem " effect from two different angles. Awesome! The embossing over the door to the manger is the tree of life. 

To enter the church there is a short door. Everyone entering must "humble themselves" by stooping down. It's a great image of worship. 

We attended the Christ at the Checkpoint conference at the Intercontinental hotel and sponsored by the Bethlehem Bible College. John Ortberg gave the opening Bible study on Philippians 2. He talked about the six layers of Roman society going up from slaves, freedmen and citizens to senators and the highest elites. Paul made the point that even though he was a citizen he considered himself a slave to Christ. He emptied himself, humbled himself (downward) instead of exalting himself (upward) just as Christ did.  

The next two speakers told about the state of the palestinian church--misperceptions of arab chrisians ("don't ask me when I became a Christian... arabs have been Christians since Pentecost...") and responses to injustice in the West Bank, Gaza and including Bethlehem. We then heard Alex Awad, a pastor and founder of the conference speak just to our group about the history of the conflict, which he has lived through. 

The contrasts of Bethlehem are so great: Jesus is born in peace, and yet the city lies behind a partition which looks like a prison wall. There is passion on both sides  of the conflict and no one knows the way out. We're left with tension and a desire to see God break through hearts and give wisdom in this very difficult reality.


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