Christmas is …

Walking through the streets of Jerusalem, not exactly sure where you’re going
Riding in an Arab bus beside concrete shield walls, two stories high and angled at the top to protect cars on the road from falling blast debris and bullets
Conversing with a cab driver in Hebrew
Being warned by above driver to speak only English in the West Bank
Following the sounds of brass Christmas carols to Manger Square
Standing in the middle of a concert audience with absolutely no room to move

Trying to avoid smelling the chocolate hasish drifting from the man in front of me’s pipe into my face
Snipers on the roof of the Bethlehem Peace Center
Hamas of Bethlehem wishing you a Merry Christmas
Israeli and Palestinian musicians playing together
Emcees reminding you to stand strong in the face of opposition and to remember the martyrs of the cause
70% young Palestinian men
Chance meetings with tourists from Dallas and New York
A French tour group all wearing bright yellow hats
The smell of black coffee, heavier than 40wt motor oil
Trying not to mentally slip and respond in Hebrew
Mosques and churches and Hamas police
Boiled corn-on-the-cob, slightly tough with about six tablespoons of salt
Sitting on the steps of Manger Square, eating the above and watching an impromptu break dancer making a hit with the locals
Wandering the streets of Bethlehem looking for a cab
Crossing the Israeli checkpoint and feeling as if you had reached ‘home base’ in a game of tag
Waking up to “Merry Christmas” and making sure you brush your teeth before ripping open the package your parents sent
Listening to the Chicago Symphony Brass play carols while sitting on the bus
Getting to church a tad late
The Nicene Creed and John 1
A three-year-old boy whispering excitedly about the presents under the Christmas tree
Lighting candles and passing the flame
“O Come, All Ye Faithful”
Bringing JellO to the church potluck and figuring out where to put it
Norwegian interns and laughter
Trying to find a part to slice off of the turkey
Red cabbage, meat pie, salad, heaping plates, tea, and chocolate cake
Engineering and pre-meds
Going to class and wishing “Merry Christmas”
Reading a book in your room
Going to a concert at church
Standing room only and giving up half a chair to another woman
Pointing out the place in the program numerous times
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Paganini
“O, Holy Night” in German
The swell and soar of a full pipe organ
Violin, organ, trumpet and flute
Shivering at the bus stop, talking to your family and waiting for a bus that never comes
Finally giving up, calling a cab, going back to your room, and lighting all the candles on your advent wreath

But, most of all, Christmas is a virgin giving birth in pain, a carpenter giving up his reputation, shepherds acting on a wild vision, magi from persia defying a king, and God becoming a baby, fully divine and fully flesh.


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