We went to Bethlehem today without ever leaving Alberta! West Edmonton Christian Assembly, just off Anthony Henday Drive on the western outskirts of the city, is hosting its second annual Bethlehem Walk and it was well worth the four hours of driving to get there and back. 81 000 square feet of indoor space have been converted into the streets and shops of ancient Bethlehem. More than 450 volunteers dressed in period costumes add authenticity to the scene.
We started with the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem where angels high above our heads sang out the good news of the Messiah’s birth. Inside the gates, the streets of Bethlehem were crowded just as they were on that first Christmas some 2000 years ago. Wandering from shop to shop, we enjoyed the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the busy town. We sampled dates, honey, buns and tea; smelled frankincense, soap and spices; watched the potter kneading clay and saw wheat being ground into flour and olives being pressed for oil.
I lingered longest in the stable behind the Bethlehem Inn. There, amidst the pens of goats, sheep, donkeys and oxen… yes, live goats, sheep, donkeys and oxen… we found Mary, Joseph and the wee baby Jesus. When we arrived, he was sound asleep in the manger. I was especially moved by the little golden haired girl who stood in wonder and repeatedly asked, “Is he real?” Yes, sweetheart, He is real! I thought as I remembered the line from my favourite Christmas song…
Mighty God and fragile baby, here a lowly manger holds.
And it’s still the greatest story ever told.
This, I thought, is what Christmas is really all about and I stayed until the baby woke.
Moving on, we passed the blacksmith making nails and, finally, the cross maker chiselling and forming crosses to be used by the oppressive Roman authorities to execute criminals on; not by choice, he hastened to tell us, but because the Romans had conscripted him to do so. Locating the blacksmith and the cross maker immediately following the stable was clearly the result of careful planning and was very effective. After all, what is Christmas without Easter? the manger without the cross?