“Happy Birtday!” Today is Craig’s “birtday” – at least that’s how it was spelled on his cake tonight at dinner.

A portion of our day today was spent at a shepherd’s well on a hill that faced Bethlehem. We stood and wondered what it may have been like for the shepherds of Luke 2 when the angels announced Jesus’ birth. Again I was amazed at how close a city or town is in proximity to the others. If I had to guess how far it was across the valley between the shepherds’ well and Bethlehem, I’d say it was equal to a challenging Par 5, with a HUGE sand trap.

To get from Point A (the general vicinity where the angels appeared) over to Point B (beneath the bright star), the shepherds simply crossed a valley. But now that valley is flanked by thick curls of barbwire, also known as what I officially named the “Palestinian National Flower.” Had those shepherds tried crossing today, they would have to lead their flocks through a number of checkpoints and turnstiles, flashing their passports as they went.

No angels sang to us this afternoon, but the horn from the bus signaled that it was time to make our way into Bethlehem. At our first checkpoint I noted a huge sign that read, “PEACE” – and strung across the wall above it was more of that barbwire in rolled coils that looked like a satanic slinky. After that we went through turnstiles and metal detectors, walking past armed guards who, thankfully, seemed very disinterested in our group. Once officially cleared to walk around the streets of Bethlehem, we were pressed by Islamic peddlers pushing postcards, wooden flutes, and chintzy necklaces.

Before we left Bethlehem, we heard gunshots (just a couple of distant pops from a small weapon), shouting matches in the street, and that now-familiar and eerie song calling Muslims to prayer.

All I could think of was the song, “Silent Night,” and how I may never again get the warm-fuzzies singing that song at a Christmas Eve service. This post has been pretty bleak, so I apologize if I’ve tarnished a favorite carol of yours, BUT there is a political and religious tension that cannot be overlooked. It’s everywhere around here, and it’s thousands of years old.

So, so many more things to write about from today, but Im exhausted. I’ll wrap up this post by mentioning that my first day here in Jerusalem was full of so many ironies and paradoxes that this Christmas I will bake a cake for Jesus, and write “Happy Birtday” on it.