The season of Advent

This year the commercialism and secular version of Christmas is bothering me more. Some of it may be just where I am in life lately. Some may be because my pastor is preaching a series about it. I know, though, that part of it is due to my trip to the Holy Land last year during the Christmas season. I was recently asked to write a submission to the Society of Biblical Studies newsletter to reflect on my trip. That group was the co-sponsor of the trip. Since the readership of that newsletter (if it makes it in) and the readership of my blog probably don't overlap much, I thought I would share it on here.

Also, if you would like a great Advent tool, try this Jesse Tree Advent Devotional from Ann Voskamp. We started it last night with my family. The kids like getting to hang a new ornament on the tree each night. I like that it is a simple but meaningful way to help them keep the focus of Christmas on the birth of Jesus.

Reflections on the Holy Land--One Year Later

Last January, I traveled to Israel and Jordan with a group from Southern Nazarene University and a handful of other adults. As Christmas nears, I have been thinking more about my trip. I truly miss being there. Although it was at the end of the Christmas season here in the United States, we were in Israel for Orthodox Christmas. On that Christmas Eve, we slept in Nazareth. We worshipped with Christians in Bethlehem the following Sunday. We even received a special Christmas day gift from our trip leaders—a short stop at Caesarea to play in the Mediterranean. It was a marvelous opportunity to celebrate the birth and life of Christ.
A key verse for me this year—one that sums up Christmas and my trip to the Holy Land—is John 1:14:  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten Father, full of grace and truth” (NASB).  Through my time in Israel, I was given a better context of the life of Jesus. I was able to see Bethlehem, Samaria, Galilee, Nazareth, Capernaum, and Jerusalem. I was able to see his country with all its varied landscapes and catch a glimpse of that culture. I could also catch glimpses of the struggles of that time within the conflicts in the region today. I learned how to be more like Jesus through my time walking in his footsteps.
Our travels also made flesh the Word of God, that of the Bible, as we visited the places and reflected on the stories of the Old and New Testament. I was able to experience these places, making them more real to me. We stood on Mount Nebo, gazed into the Promised Land—, then got on a bus, and drove there.  We visited Amman, Jericho, Megiddo, and Samaria and saw the ancient ruins of those kingdoms. We stood on Mount Gerizim and could imagine the scene described in Joshua 8. We visited the Ein Gedi and refreshed ourselves in the coolness and beauty of the park, just as David did. We sat on the Mount of Beatitudes, partaking in communion and listening to the teachings of God from our own teacher. We rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, stood on its shores, and wandered the streets of Old Jerusalem. I was able to be in the land of the book I have been reading all my life, and it made it an even richer text.
Finally, the trip gave me a broader view of the people of God. Every day we were awakened by the call to prayer, reminding us of our own need to begin our day with God. We heard from Palestinian Christians about their history and struggles in the region. We worshipped with Jordanian Christians. We explored the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Galilee region with Christians from around the world. We observed Jews reciting the Torah at the Western Wall. We saw men in small groups reading the Qur’an on the Temple Mount. A Nazarene missionary shared about his ministry in Jerusalem and surrounding villages. Even in our time together as a group, I learned more about the unique ways that God works and allows us to serve Him.  Throughout the trip, I could see numerous examples of a deep reverence and passion for God, as each lived out their understanding of what it means to be a people of God. Their reverence reflected the glory of God. Their passion was an example to me as I strive to live in the fullness of His grace and truth.