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What I Learned About Christmas In Nazareth

I never made it to Bethlehem, but I caught a vision of Christmas in one of the most unexpected places—in the face of a young Middle Eastern boy.

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A couple of years ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to take a trip to Israel. Friends of ours had recently returned to their home in Tel Aviv after a stint in the U. S. and invited us to visit them. So, after convincing the grandparents to babysit and getting our tickets and passports in order, we took off on the trip of a lifetime. Over the next week, we drank coffee on the boardwalk as the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea; we meandered along the ancient alley ways of Joppa; and we experienced a rare desert thunderstorm in the Negev, watching with reverence as the water came rushing down the hillsides flooding wadis that only moments before had been bone dry.

One afternoon on the final leg of the trip, we found ourselves on the streets of Old Nazareth, a picturesque city of white buildings and terra cotta roofs nestled in the rocky Galilean hillside. Like the rest of the Holy Land, Nazareth is layered with history. It was the home of both Mary and Joseph, and is the boyhood home of Jesus. It boasts the place where Gabriel announced the news of the coming Messiah, and Joseph's carpenter shop where he labored to provide for his young family. And much like rest of the Holy Land, this history has been preserved in soaring cathedrals, climate-controlled museums, and walking tours.

The streets were busy with people coming and going—shopkeepers were trying to get the attention of passersby, and mothers were herding small children from one point to another. As I walked down the street, I almost collided with a group of young boys—no more than seven or eight years old—who were presumably on their way home from school. They were playing a game of tag, too engrossed in wrestling and jostling each other to notice me. I quickly stepped out of their way, but as I did, one of them looked up at me.

And in that instant, as our eyes met, Nazareth came alive. In that instant, the boyhood home of Jesus—a town of cathedrals and carefully preserved relics and historically correct walking tours—revealed itself to me in this boy's face. His bright, laughing eyes, the energy that pulsed through his body as he twisted to escape the touch of his friend, the very distinct possibility that he was meant to be somewhere else at that moment. Suddenly, I realized these were the same streets that a young Jesus had played on nearly 2,000 years earlier. These were the streets where he'd laughed and wandered and run errands for his mother. These were the streets where he had lived.

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What I Learned About Christmas In Nazareth