Christmas: The tour and the pilgrimage

posted at 11:31 am on December 24, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

This year, I took a trip that I thought I might never actually experience — a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My wife and I decided to do this more than a year before we left, prioritizing it over a few maintenance items for the house, and stuck with it even with a serious health issue in our family. The timing ended up being fortuitous; our pastor, who had lived in the area for a time and who led this pilgrimage, got promoted to an important post within our diocese, so we had two weeks to spend with him before saying our goodbyes (at least in the pastor sense) after eleven years.

To call the experience life-changing would be to sell it short. I rarely find a day now when my thoughts don’t return to our pilgrimage, watching the Gospel come to life in a much more substantive manner, and relating it to my own life. That was especially true in my preparations for Christmas this year, made less joyous by the death in our family and the narrowed time frame for our activities. All of this, but especially the tension we felt on our journey between being pilgrims and tourists in the Holy Land led me to see the Christmas bustle and commercial character of this season in the West as a particular challenge for believers — a personal more than a cultural challenge, as I explain in my column for The Week:

With all of those distractions, it’s certainly easy to lose the concept of pilgrimage and the message of the Biblical journey to the joys and travails of tourism. What kept us focused on the former over the latter? Prayer, certainly, and the efforts of our priest in conducting daily Masses to bring us back to our mission. But the greatest effort was to continually remind ourselves of the message of Scripture and its meaning for our lives.

It’s easy to see the similarities between that tension and the sometimes-panicked efforts to provide the proper celebration of Christmas that we all endure at this time of year. Did we buy enough presents for the granddaughters? Will we get the Christmas cards out the door on time? Do we have enough food for dinner, and will we get the house cleaned before the guests arrive? Is there enough time to run to the store for one last gift?

These are tourist questions for the holy season, though. For Christians, they are the travel arrangement issues on the way to the pilgrimage, to the central message of Christmas. Ironically, the truth at the heart of Christmas is this: We are not sufficient in ourselves. Christ came to our world to save us because all of our plans, wealth, and worries could not possibly bring us to salvation. We are not called to merely tour the season and pick up trinkets, or to take photographs along the way. We are called to recognize that truth, which makes all those plans ridiculous, and marvel at God’s sacrificial love for us. We can find hope and joy in that revelation regardless of where we stood in line to finally open ourselves to it.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves along the way on our pilgrimage. In fact, we are called to joyous celebration with all because of it, regardless of whether they believe or not. Prepare the feast, exchange the gifts, and enjoy the time with family and friends. Forgive those who want to shove you aside and help them celebrate, too. Because of the true meaning of Christmas, we can take joy in our journey, rather than just be tourists competing for a glimpse of something otherwise incomprehensible.

It’s also worth remembering those Christians whose challenge this season is a lot more than just resisting a cultural tilt toward materialism over the gift of our Lord. Nina Shea reminds us of our sisters and brothers who face annihilation or religious cleansing in the Middle East (via Kirsten Powers):

The Islamist religious-cleansing campaign is now acute in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, countries that are home to three of the four Mideastern Christian communities of significant size. New data released by the United Nations Committee for Refugees estimates that 850,000 Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, meaning that as few as 250,000 might remain. Syrian Christians have well-founded fears that this is now their fate, too. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of oppressed Egyptian Copts are hedging their bets and buying houses in Georgia, Cyprus, and the United States.

The voices of the persecuted are searing. In addition to relating the horrors they face, they frequently raise another problem, their abandonment by the West. “We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?” Archbishop Sako asks.

Congress’s impassioned champion of religious freedom, Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia, speaks frequently about his own frustration that Western leaders are silent about this immense human-rights crisis. “We’re seeing the destruction of Syrian Christianity. The road to Damascus, the very road where Paul found Jesus, may be the one that passes close by Maaloula,” he emphasized in a recent conversation with me. He was referring to the historic Christian town recently laid siege by jihadists and from where a dozen Orthodox nuns were taken hostage this month. …

In a major address in November, Cardinal Timothy Dolan focused on persecuted Christians. He called for prayer and urged his listeners to “insist that our country’s leaders make the protection of at-risk Christians abroad a foreign-policy priority for the United States.”

Few have heeded his call. Representative Wolf’s bill for the creation of the office of a special envoy for religious minorities languishes in the Senate for a third year. Many more American voices — religious and political — are needed to raise awareness of this religious-freedom crisis of historic magnitude.

AFP offers an update on the refugees of Maaloula, on which Lee Stranahan has reported at length:

The residents of Maalula are among the millions of Syrians displaced by a war that shows no sign of ending, and what should be a joyful holiday season is instead the latest painful reminder of all that has been lost.

“The most beautiful gift I could possibly receive for Christmas would be to return to Maalula,” whispered Hneineh Taalab, who fled in early September after jihadist fighters entered the town and is now sheltering at a Damascus convent.

Taalab said jihadists from Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group linked to Al-Qaeda, murdered her 20-year-old son Sarkis Zakhem when they took over Maalula on September 8, after four days of fighting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

“Al-Nusra also killed my brother and my cousin because they refused to convert to Islam.”

The army briefly retook Maalula from rebels, but the troops were again expelled earlier this month as the Al-Nusra Front and other rebels swept into the mostly deserted town.

We need to pray for these Christians and then speak out on their behalf. Let that be our prayer for this Christmas, and then be sure to read up on the problem with John Allen’s The Global War on Christians (which explains that the problem isn’t limited to the Middle East and Islamists), and Lee Stranahan’s efforts to report on the issue.

Let’s close on a happier note. The front-page picture from this post was taken by me, one of the 2400+ shots I took on the trip (which was a challenge to the pilgrimage experience itself), and unfortunately the best I took of the grotto in the Church of the Nativity. The 14-point star marks the spot where tradition holds that Christ came among us to save us from our fallen state, the gift of the God who seeks us out as much (and more) than we seek Him. It’s the place where our rescue began, and the church above it is haunting and beautiful. I have assembled a few pictures I took and developed from my pilgrimage, and my Christmas wish is that it brings joy to our readers — and perhaps extends a bit of the pilgrimage experience as well.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

 


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Merry Christmas Ed.. great post. Thank you

ted c on December 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Merry Christmas to you and to all of the HA family out there

Thanks Ed

cmsinaz on December 24, 2013 at 11:41 AM

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone…

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 11:45 AM

A moving and beautiful piece, Ed. Thanks for sharing.

Merry Christmas to you and all at Hot Air.

TXUS on December 24, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Merry Christmas Ed and to everyone else.

Flange on December 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Merry Christmas to all. Here’s to keeping the spirit of Christmas no matter how liberal your big-mouthed sister-in-law/uncle/whatever is.

But seriously, Christmas blessings to all at HA.

Happy Nomad on December 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

It has to be difficult to truly put into words the experience of being there in the “Holy Land”…where Christ walked the Earth. One day I hope to get there myself.

On an upside note, THIS STORY about Muslims helping save a Jewish synagogue was very nice to read.

JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM

…ditto what you all have said!

KOOLAID2 on December 24, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Merry Christmas to all my fellow Hot Air “posters”. Let’s all pray 2014 will see this nation turn back to God.

oldleprechaun on December 24, 2013 at 12:08 PM

Thank you for sharing, the pictures are stunning. I can’t imagine the feeling of wanting so badly to go home and home being deadly hostile. It certainly puts a bit of a different prospective on our “battles” here. Do we fight harder to keep us from becoming the same or do we step back and get a bit of clarity on how lucky we are? Probably a bit of both. Merry Christmas, Everyone!!!

Cindy Munford on December 24, 2013 at 12:13 PM

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless you richly, especially with spiritual guidance and wisdom as we move into the new year. Thanks for sharing your photos, Ed. I am starting to wonder if a trip to the Holy Land might be a good idea for my family, as well, simply to help bulwark our faith during these perilous times.

theotherone on December 24, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Merry Christmas Ed, and to all Hot Airians. My favorite day of the year. About to run out and get some more food before the stores close.

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 12:15 PM

On a less pleasant note, making a pilgrimage is not enough. We need to forcefully take back the entire Middle East from Muslim scum. Christians are “peacing” themselves into extinction.

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Excellent, thanks for the link.

Cindy Munford on December 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

On an upside note, THIS STORY about Muslims helping save a Jewish synagogue was very nice to read.

JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM

Did the Muslims in question repudiate all the verses in the Koran that call Jews ‘apes and pigs’? Did they call to have the Koran’s orders to kill, conquer and subjugate all non-Muslims obliterated?

No, I didn’t think so. Glad you felt good for half a second though while a genocide occurs.

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Trust but verify, you may be witnessing baby steps.

Cindy Munford on December 24, 2013 at 12:27 PM

Great piece, Ed. I hope you and your family have a very merry a d joyous Christmas.

simkeith on December 24, 2013 at 12:56 PM

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Sums is up for all, perfectly.

Schadenfreude on December 24, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Luke 2

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 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.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 2:42 PM

Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone…

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Sums is up for all, perfectly.

Schadenfreude on December 24, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Yes, it does. I know I haven’t been around much lately, but I haven’t forgotten you all.

To all here at HotAir, I wish you a very blessed, joyous Christmas.

PatriotGal2257 on December 24, 2013 at 2:49 PM

Been to Israel three times, love the Church of the Nativity. Thanks for your thoughts, Ed, and Merry Christmas to you and yours, as well as to all the readers of Hot AIr.

Athanasius on December 24, 2013 at 3:15 PM

Schadenfreude on December 24, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Yep, OC said it the best.

Cindy Munford on December 24, 2013 at 3:21 PM

Did the Muslims in question repudiate all the verses in the Koran that call Jews ‘apes and pigs’? Did they call to have the Koran’s orders to kill, conquer and subjugate all non-Muslims obliterated?

No, I didn’t think so. Glad you felt good for half a second though while a genocide occurs.

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Sheesh…what a grinch.

Yeah, the Muslims that held that fundraising drive for the city’s Jews to continue to have a local synagogue probably did it so there would still be local Jews around for those Muslims to obliterate.

Merry Christmas!

JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Sheesh…what a grinch.
JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Yeah, I’m not sure how he got around to “exterminate Muslims for Christmas”.

Though I’ll do a bit of parade raining myself in noting that it’s not very likely that any of the sites mentioned in relation to Jesus’ birth and death are accurate. They’re pretty much tourist traps. But just as Christmas is to celebrate Christ’s birth rather than the actual date of the birth, such sites remind us these things did happen.
The Holy Land is found in the heart of the believer.

whatcat on December 24, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Merry Christmas, all!

unclesmrgol on December 24, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Though I’ll do a bit of parade raining myself in noting that it’s not very likely that any of the sites mentioned in relation to Jesus’ birth and death are accurate. They’re pretty much tourist traps. But just as Christmas is to celebrate Christ’s birth rather than the actual date of the birth, such sites remind us these things did happen.
The Holy Land is found in the heart of the believer.

whatcat on December 24, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Totally agree with the last sentiment, of course. The temple of the Holy Spirit is our hearts, not a building or a spot of land. When we speak of the Holy Land, it’s meant in a historical sense.

However, don’t be too quick to dismiss every traditional site. There has been serious archeology performed to verify many of these claims (in terms of age and use, not theology), and there has never been a competing site claimed for the Nativity. Both the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre have a tradition of veneration going back to the late 1st century. The Roman emperor Hadrian found this so annoying that he ordered the sites filled with rocks (they were still caves/grottos) and idols placed above them, predicting that Christians would fade away in 50 years. This marked these spots for later restoration.

Some claims are bogus, of course; the claimed tomb of Lazarus in Bethany is a rather easily-proven fraud, for instance. But just because pilgrims (and tourists) show up in droves doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong, just as it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re correct.

Ed Morrissey on December 24, 2013 at 4:44 PM

Merry Christmas, HotAir-heads!

I leave you with one of my favorites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWS7CpFHJ8E

I’m off to go-a wassailing.

JetBoy on December 24, 2013 at 5:16 PM

Some claims are bogus, of course; the claimed tomb of Lazarus in Bethany is a rather easily-proven fraud, for instance. But just because pilgrims (and tourists) show up in droves doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong, just as it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re correct.

Ed Morrissey on December 24, 2013 at 4:44 PM

The one thing I didn’t like about my trip there was it was basically a tour of different churches. The guide we used was great though and gave differing opinions on the authenticity of the various sites that we visited. Overall it was a great trip – I loved the Sea of Galilee areas.

Corsair on December 24, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Oh, and Merry Christmas to all.

Corsair on December 24, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Nice sunny day to wait in line at the Church of the Nativity.

The Holy Land visits do change you and they make the stories of the Bible so much more geographically familiar. Some places are not the exact spot – true – but you are in the exact spot nevertheless. Read about the Holy Land before you go. This includes reading your Bible – especially the Gospels and Acts. Read websites and blogs of other travelers. Steven C. Doyle has an excellent Pilgrim’s Guide. Make the effort to get up to Mt Nebo in Jordan or Mt Herman in northernmost Israel for a couple views you will recall for the rest of your life.

The Holy Land is a beautiful place for Christians (and others) to visit and for Israel it is a cash cow for US Dollars. Tourist trips include plenty of gift shop stopping.

ericdijon on December 24, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Great post Ed…Would love to visit Israel one day and see the holy sites there…Persecuted Christians are always on my mind..need to pray for them more…Merry Christmas Ed to you and your family and everyone here at hotair!

one thing I just thought of and it is now on the fox news special on Jesus..not a coincidence! I think it was God telling me..its a sad state Bethlehem is in right now..just about 20% Christians and 80% muslim..insanity…I thought this literally a few seconds before it was on the special on fox

God Bless everyone..Jesus is the real reason for this season..what an eternal blessing for all of mankind

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

sadsushi on December 24, 2013 at 7:45 PM

********** MERRY CHRISTMAS Hot Air Crew Members and Readers *********

From Upper Northern Ontario Canada:0

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 7:48 PM

“The People That in Darkness Sat”
by John Morison, 1749-1798

1. The people that in darkness sat
A glorious light have seen;
The light has shined on them who long
In shades of death have been.

2. To hail Thee, Sun of Righteousness,
The gathering nations come;
They joy as when the reapers bear
Their harvest treasures home.

3. For Thou their burden dost remove
And break the tyrant’s rod
As in the day when Midian fell
Before the sword of God.

4. To us a Child of hope is born,
To us a Son is given,
And on His shoulder ever rests
All power in earth and heaven.

5. His name shall be the Prince of Peace,
The Everlasting Lord,
The Wonderful, the Counselor.
The God by all adored.

6. His righteous government and power
Shall over all extend;
On judgment and on justice based,
His reign shall have no end.

7. Lord Jesus, reign in us, we pray,
And make us Thine alone,
Who with the Father ever art
And Holy Spirit, one.

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 7:50 PM

This year, I took a trip that I thought I might never actually experience — a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. My wife and I decided to do this more than a year before we left, prioritizing it over a few maintenance items for the house, and stuck with it even with a serious health issue in our family.
==================================

Amen ED, i too want to visit Israel, some day, as well!!

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:10 PM

The light has shined on them who long

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 7:50 PM

OmahaConservative: Merry Christmas OC:)
=======================================


Mike Oldfield – Let there be light
************* ******************

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqUwlu6SbZA

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:16 PM

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Merry Christmas, dear brother! Keep the faith alive…

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM

Stille Nacht…

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 8:26 PM

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:16 PM

Merry Christmas, dear brother! Keep the faith alive…

OmahaConservative on December 24, 2013 at 8:22 PM

OmahaConservative:You bet, onwards and upwards:)

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:27 PM

WATCH:
******

Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican with Pope Francis
***************************************************

Pope Francis celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica

http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/live/watch-christmas-eve-mass-at-the-vatican-with-pope-francis-5889875618299904

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:30 PM

Marine Gets Adopted in Christmas Eve Ceremony
*********************************************

US Marine adopted in Christmas Eve ceremony in NY; latest in growing trend of adult adoptions
24.12.2013
**********

http://www.aleteia.org/en/society/aggregated-content/marine-gets-adopted-in-christmas-eve-ceremony-5239931102298112

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:35 PM

Jerusalem live camera Old City View

Watch Jerusalem in real-time through a live video feed from our webcam located in the balcony of the hotel’s Executive Lounge. See for yourself the breathtaking Old City views with its walls, minarets and domes from our hotel, situated in the heart of Jerusalem.

2013 12 25

http://www.inbalhotel.com/jerusalem-live-camera-old-city-view

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Tweets All / No replies

Benjamin Netanyahu ‏@netanyahu 5h

Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends around the world from Jerusalem! http://bit.ly/JbB5W8
====================================

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Christmas Greeting – 2013

Published on Dec 24, 2013

Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends around the world from Jerusalem!

This is Jerusalem of gold, now it’s Jerusalem of snow. We celebrate Christmas with you, we know the importance you attach to our common heritage, to the State of Israel and to the city of Jerusalem, where so much of our common history was forged. We have a great past, we have common values, we have the desire to seize a common future of security, prosperity and peace, so from the city of peace, Jerusalem, I extend the warmest Christmas greetings to all of you.

Merry Christmas!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrXEzFQzD9s

canopfor on December 24, 2013 at 8:49 PM

A punk classic. Dickies, Silent Night.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IwuaRVjDOcw

Merry Christmas everyone!

WhatSlushfund on December 24, 2013 at 9:18 PM

A Blessed Christmas, Ed, and everyone else, as well. It is very important to pray for and remember Christians across the globe who suffer persecution…and to remember next election that Obama and his party who, to a person, do not seem to give a damn.

kscheuller on December 25, 2013 at 11:58 AM