And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Every December we read the Christmas story to the kids and pull out our symbolic collection of children’s tales related to the season. We love One Winter’s Night, the story of a young cow wondering cold and alone in the snow that accidentally wonders into the same manger to give birth along side Mary. The Pine Tree Parable is another of the kids’ favorites, when a small child shows a farmer’s wife the true meaning of the season. The kids love candy canes, and we read the story of the candy cane maker each year to remind them of why we celebrate Christmas. And of coarse, our family favorite is the story of why the Jerusalem donkey has a cross on it’s back.
William is now five, and Macey just turned seven. At this age, they now remember the stories and know that Mary rode a donkey, Jesus was born on Christmas, and he slept in a barn. Beyond that, they haven’t been able to grasp the finer details such as why were Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem and what must their world have been like at the time? When we saw an ad in our local paper this past week for an upcoming “Walk through Bethlehem” we thought this would be a fun way to make the story seem a little more real for them. Friday evening we headed out to the Smithville Church of God with three kids in tow.
When we first arrived, we were escorted into the sanctuary where we were seated in groups to await our turn to Bethlehem. Meanwhile, ladies of the church treated us with beautiful Christmas songs. Cierra really enjoyed this part! Soon it was our turn to head outside with our guide, who lead us along side Joseph and Mary riding on her donkey towards Bethlehem.
Just outside the city, the kids were thrilled to see a huge camel resting from his journey! This camel was so large, the kids could have walked under him but we didn’t try it… instead they settled for petting some of the other donkeys grazing next to their shepherds.
Now, here is where things got interesting. We ran into the tax collector at the entrance to the city. He demanded our family name and count, so we could pay the right amount of taxes. Once we settled up with him we began to make our way into the city. William, our usual rambunctious and loud little boy suddenly became unsure of himself and tucked in close to my side as he eyed the Roman soldiers roaming the streets. He was so worried about them that he passed up a free sling shot from one of the market peddlers! He did take a moment to check out the local fisherman’s fresh catch.
Macey made friends with a local toy maker who gave her and Cierra some new rag dolls! They were so happy with their new toys, but their joy was cut short by a disturbance at the produce stand. Apparently, the shopkeeper had not paid his taxes! What a scuffle that was, the soldiers were rough as they grabbed him up and carried him away to jail.
We quickly left the area, in case the soldiers came back. As we wondered through the marketplace looking at potters, incense, and crafts a shop drew my eye. A beautiful assortment of scarves and woven items were offered, while the shopkeeper sat weaving on her newest project.
Not long after looking through the weaving shop, we found a local wood carver. He was working hard whittling away on a new project. I decided to stop by and introduce myself.
This talented wood carver’s name was John. “Just John” said he had been working all day on a new chair. He got it out to show me, boy was that thing heavy! See that staff in the background? It was beautiful! John truly has a talent for his art.
As we made our way past the busiest part of the marketplace, we came to the kids’ favorite part. The chicken lady! And not far past the chicken lady were the stables where the soldiers kept their horses.
As the kids stopped to pet a friendly horse, Andrew wondered over to the tannery. There the storeowner was hard at work tanning and stretching all sorts of hides.
After our adventures in the marketplace, we left the city and began the journey back home. On our way, we wondered upon a barnyard. Not just your average barnyard though. Sure there were sheep, llama, cows, but then… a baby? Right there in the middle of the manger was a young couple holding a brand new baby. Watching over them stood shepherds and a trio of wise men.
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Luke 2:12
These shepherds had a beautiful pair of working cattle, and a large gentle bull tied near the manger. They were so striking; we had to ask what they were. Andrew found out that they were Corriente. This breed is originally from Spain, and most recently imported from Mexico into the United States. We want to find out a little more about this breed, and possibly consider it as future additions to our own farm.
Once again on our way out of Bethlehem, we joined fellow travelers for some quick refreshments. The kids enjoyed Christmas cookies and candy canes while we all sipped on apple cider and hot cocoa. The girls played with their dolls, while William was sad that he had been to scared to get a slingshot. Jeff Armstrong, pastor of the Church of God, overheard Will and offered to go all the way to Bethlehem and bring him a slingshot. What a nice thing to do! So we waited for Mr. Armstrong to make his journey, and then headed back to the car with our new dolls and slingshot.
When we got home, the kids asked to read One Winter’s Night again for their bed story. This time, instead of sitting quietly through the story, they began talking about the things they had seen in Bethlehem, how busy it was, and how noisy. William said the soldiers were scary, and Macey thought baby Jesus was better off in the barn than in all that noise.
We were thankful the kids got to witness just a little bit of what life may have been like for Mary and Joseph all those years ago. It was a nice reminder of what is important during the Christmas season. Not the shopping, presents, and decorations. It was a lesson I don’t believe the children will soon forget. And evidently it was an experience that got them thinking beyond material things.
Two days after our experience in Bethlehem Macey asked me a question. “Mom, what is the one thing we can’t live without, the most important?” Thinking this through scientifically I say “oxygen, we have to have air to breath or we will die.” Macey responds with “ What else?” I think about this a moment and answer “water, we can go several days without food but must have water.” Macey looked at me funny for a moment and asked, “what else?” By this time I am wondering what her point is, “Food I guess. You need food for energy.” Macey sighs really loud and walks over to me. “No Mom” she says as she places her hands on the sides of my face. “Family. That’s the most important thing Momma. We need family.” Thank you Bethlehem.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.