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Saturday, 22 December 2018

Back To The Manger! - A Sequel.

I was one of many pupils sitting on the floor of the main school hall during morning assembly sometime within the mid-to-late sixties. It was the moment when our Deputy Head, a Mr Chapman, told us of his visit to the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem, during, I assume, his time of service in the military under the British Mandate governance in the Middle East. He described the site marked by a 14-pronged star located in the crypt under the main chapel. 

I absorbed the information both with a level of interest and also with some trepidation. Trepidation, because everyone who was not a member of staff was afraid of Mr Chapman. One false move, one word spoken out of place, and it's a dispatch to his office to receive three strokes of the cane across the palm of the hand. Gender was irrelevant. Both boys and girls were subject to such corporal punishment which occurred almost daily. Yet his information stuck in my mind despite religion being generally disliked by the pupils, especially among the boys, yet we all went along with the curriculum merely to escape punishment.

Mr Chapman eventually became the Mayor of our hometown of Bracknell during the early 1970s before passing on to meet his Maker. However, I have no record of anyone I know from the school of visiting the Middle East, let alone the star of Bethlehem. That was further endorsed in 1976, as a naive backpacker, I actually astonished the whole workforce at a precision engineering factory where I worked, after announcing of my lone backpacking trip to Israel. In other words, I doubt that any pupil in that assembly had ever bothered to make the trip to see for himself.

And so there I was, a young 23-year old and still green when it came to travelling experience, despite having done Italy for three years leading up to 1976. And by taking a bus to Bethlehem from Jerusalem, where I was staying, I managed to enter the Church of the Nativity and shortly after finding the steps leading downstairs, posed by the star to have my picture taken by a passing stranger:

A "picture of a picture" at the Star of Bethlehem, 1976.

Therefore, for this Christmas, I would like to continue with a sequel to the blog I wrote precisely three years previously.*


Once again I arrived at a garage in the city of Tel Aviv, wondering whether if by chance the Delorian fitted with the Flux Capacitor was available for hire. I was lucky. It was hired out earlier that day and was recently returned in time for a service and refuelling. The proprietor recognised me from my last call. Supplied with a spare can of petrol along with an all-important flask of plutonium, once again I was driving along the highway heading south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

But this time, I decided to leave some distance between the parked car and the town. Since as before, it was the start of the Sabbath, and therefore the highway was free of traffic. I made sure that the destination date was set several days later than the one previously set. This was with a hope that I would go through a very narrow window of time between the visit from the Magi to the moment they flee to Egypt to escape Herod's wrath. Maybe it was because I wanted to be sure that Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus will leave safely.

I sped to 88mph. Just as Rachel's tomb began to appear at a distance - Bang! - suddenly the car was rolling along a dirt track on January 6th, 03 BC. The roughness of the ground causing the vehicle to halt at Rachel's Tomb, and I managed to push it out of sight from any passerby. It was evening when I arrived, the sunset making a beautiful display of light on the horizon. A passerby heading in the opposite direction greeted me in Aramaic, and then I recall that English here was totally unknown. If only I spoke Aramaic or Hebrew even. I realised that if I spoke fluent Greek or even Latin, I'll get by.

As I trudged along towards the village, I allowed my thoughts to ponder which I muttered under my breath.

"Different languages? Then I recall the story of Cornelius. When he and his house believed the message Peter delivered, so Luke narrates, 'they spoke in different tongues'" (Acts 10:46).

As I walked along the dirt road, I was muttering:

"A diversity of different tongues. I guess that in Cornelius' house Peter spoke in Aramaic, his home language, although he could read and understand Greek too. Pretty clever these people were - at least they were bi-lingual. I wondered how many tongues Paul the apostle had in his brain. Possibly Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, the latter being Rome's native tongue. Who knows?

"Chances were that Peter delivered his message in his native Aramaic tongue, which was understood by his listeners. He might have been familiar with Latin, but with his disdain for the Roman legions, chances that he never got round to learning their language. But when they all believed, the Holy Spirit caused their emotions to rise to such ecstatic heights that they all reverted to their home tongue in praises to God, whether it was Latin or Greek, or more likely both.

"Different countries, a diversity of tongues. All within a mighty empire ruled by some cranky emperor enthroned in Rome. And he has subjugated the Jews and the Jews don't like that. Heh! that reminds me - Brexit. The English don't like being subjects to Brussels either. But at least the Jews can speak and understand foreign languages - tongues of former Greek and present Roman empires. Or at least Peter, a fisherman, can read and write Greek as well as his own Aramaic. I would be hard done by to find a bi-lingual working-class Englishman who can even write and spell his own language properly!

"Yet the Englishman is proud of his own identity. With a history of colonialism and subjugating the indigenous of other lands, they even gave sanction to Negro slavery for a couple of centuries before the likes of William Wilberforce came along. And they won't tolerate any form of subjugation now, er - that is, in my own time frame. Hence Brexit. Despite our politicians and 'experts' warning us that a no-deal Brexit would spell economic doom, the Patriots don't care less. As far as the Economy goes, to them, it can all go down the plughole. They couldn't be bothered. As long as they preserve their national identity - a culture to rule and never to be ruled. Such standing is worthy of any economic sacrifice."

Church of the Nativity, main chapel.

Suddenly I was approached by a squad of Roman soldiers on horseback galloping from Bethlehem and heading north toward Jerusalem. Apparently, I was invisible to them as they charged directly towards me, and I had to leap out of their way as they galloped past, just to save my own life.

As I walked into town, immediately I was struck by the wails, the screaming, the words of anger begging, despair. Women running pell-mell through the streets, into houses, along with their infuriated husbands shaking their fists towards Jerusalem. Among them were older children, including teenagers, all in corporal distress, their voices filling the air with utter despair. I managed to take a peek through the windows of several houses. In each was the husband tightly hugging his wife, both locked in their suffering. With them were tiny bloodied corpses of newborns and toddlers, their slaughter being the cause of this universal distress.

I passed the cave which I remembered accommodating the Holy Family. They were there on my last visit. But not now. Before Herod's troops arrived, they were warned in a dream to pack up and leave straight away, because the king wanted the infant slain. They must have fled to Egypt, leaving their former home abandoned, never to return. I stood with sadness into the cave, yet I was very grateful that they fled to safety.

I turned back into town. The wailing continued within the homes but the streets were quieter, with far fewer people out and about. It is as if the whole town had gone behind closed doors to mourn for their precious loss. However, sitting outside with her back leaning on the wall was a young woman with her dead child still cradled in her arms. I approached her and sat beside her, putting my arm gently around her shoulders. There was no one else with her. Apparently no husband or no other children old enough to survive the slaughter. Just her holding her dead infant boy.

Maybe her husband was elsewhere, maybe pursuing the horsemen heading north on his own steed. But as I looked upon her, I began to have an instinct that she was widowed. A responsible mother raising her only son. Now he who was so precious to her had also been taken. How her husband had died I could only guess. Maybe killed by a Roman soldier during a Jewish uprise? That's quite likely, as hostilities between the two nations are very intense, and has been ever since the Romans took over Palestine after a time of independence from their earlier Greek domination.

She lowered her head to my chest and shed fresh tears. All I could do was speak comforting words.

"I wish I could speak your language," I said. "Please trust in God. I know that your beloved son is now in Paradise. One day you will join him there, never to be separated ever again. I know, you can't understand English. But I can see that you have faith. You must believe that your anguish is known by God."

Slowly she looked up, her tearful eyes looking into mine.

"I wish you can tell me your name," I said.

Gradually her mouth pursed. "Rachel."

I almost jumped out of my shoes. How did she understand? Then she cracked a strained smile, and repeated, "Rachel".

Then I realised that out of love and compassion, the Holy Spirit has given her a gift of tongue interpretation. In other words, she has an idea what I was saying, short of a literal translation.

Encouraged, I then quoted a prophecy of Scripture which I already knew in my head:

This is what the LORD says:
"A voice is heard at Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more."
This is what the LORD says:
"Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded," 
declares the LORD.
"They will return to the land of the enemy. For there is hope for the future,"
declares the LORD.
"Your children shall return to their own land."
Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Rachel looked up to me, smiling broadly. She arose, entered her house with her dead child still in her arms. She laid her child very gently on her bed. Then she offered me some refreshment. We both ate. There was a silence as we were both engaged in our thoughts. I was amazed. Her faith had made my faith look small. Likewise, her troubles make all my troubles look trivial. She has suffered a terrible double loss - the loss of her husband and the loss of her son. Yet there she is, believing and trusting in her beloved God, her God of Israel.

My own wife was alive and reasonably well, even though disabled and in need of a wheelchair. As for my three daughters, true enough, they were taken away for adoption, and we have suffered an awful loss because of that. But at least they are all alive and well, and as Jeremiah's prophecy, God has spoken to me with the same revelation. They will return to our borders one day. As for politics - well, her plight make all our political ideas look so nonsensical! Her country is ruled by the Romans with a high level of cruelty and flowing rivers of blood, sweat and tears. All we want to do is leave the European Union because it slants our sovereignty and steals our national identity, yet there is no violence, no bloodbath. On the contrary, the EU was set up to prevent or at least minimise bloodshed.

This poor woman has lost everything, yet her faith in God is a lesson for me. We stood to face each other, her eyes looking into mine and mine into hers. Our arms were also entwined as if about to hug, to wrap each other in a tight embrace. And embrace we did.

The Church of the Nativity, exterior.

At last, I said,

"I have come from a very far away place, where my wife lives. I must go back to where I came from. But I will never forget you. And furthermore, we will spend eternity together, my family with your family. Just stay faithful to God."

I watched as her face muscles move as if she was working on the interpretation of what I have said. Then placing her hand on my shoulder, she gently pushed me towards the door. She broke into a broad smile as I slowly left her room. Then in the dead of night, I made the walk back to the car.

Later, as I walk into my hotel room in modern-day Jerusalem, I checked for the safety of my return air ticket and passport. Soon I'll be returning home.

Wishing all you readers a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.


* Click here to read my original blog, on which this one is a follow-up.


  1. Hi Frank,
    I particularly like the expectancy of the return of your three daughters. What came into my mind was 'believe, all things are possible'.
    God bless you and Alex, have a lovely time over Christmas, celebrating the birth of the One 'through Whom all things are possible'.

  2. Dear Frank,
    What a lovely and imaginative post, yet one that is inspired by Scripture. One day He will wipe every tear from our eye, and all losses shall be restored or replaced by something and SomeOne infinitely more precious. I have often wondered whether in the New Jerusalem we will have the ability to time travel to be able to revisit scenes from Christ's birth and life. But even if not, we will be in His presence for all eternity! Thanks for the great post, and may you and Alex have a blessed Christmas!

  3. Great Post, Frank. Merry Christmas.