Two weeks ago, I wrote rather objectively of sites I saw during a recent visit to Israel. But today’s piece is more personal – especially with Christmas, the season to celebrate Christ’s birthday so soon upon us – how being in Bible lands affected me spiritually.
Such an impact first hit me at Dan, the northernmost town in Israel, so named for one of the Old Testament’s12 sons of Jacob. We walked through brush to the nearby headwaters of the Jordan River and came to a clearing where ruins of a pagan temple and an idol – a golden-calf – remain. “Do not worship – or make – idols” were the first two of God’s 10 Commandments; the people of Dan broke both.
“What we do affects our children and on down,” our guide told us. “As a result, Dan is not in the book of Revelation. His 11 brothers’ names, yes; his, no. It’s erased.”  
I was skeptical, but the guide was right (I looked it up). It was sobering recalling my own guilt and realizing that what I do – can and does – affect my progeny.   
Another soul-searching moment surfaced inside the Church of the Nativity. We waited in line over an hour to view Jesus’ traditional birth-site so I had ample time to view the huge, pink marble columns soaring to intricately-painted ceilings. I scoffed, “This splendor belies the scriptural, lowly manger, located in a barn!” Then gratitude surfaced: Back in the sixth century, Emperor Justinian cared enough to honor Jesus’ birth to replace an ancient 330 A.D. edifice and build this magnificent structure to preserve the spot!
Our next stop: an excavated area in ancient Jerusalem known as The Pavement…  the same marble slabs where Jesus stood – instead of me (plus all others whose guilt demands punishment) – and endured the demeaning jeers, the vicious flogging and the death sentence that I, not Him, deserved. Because He paid the high price of my sentence, I was able to “settle out of court.”   
Tears welled in Lawrence’s and my eyes as we thanked Him again for such an incredible gift.
Following this visit, our guide took us to the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows), the traditional route taken by Jesus following the verdict. His instructions: “While you walk where Jesus did, concentrate only on His destination and mission.”
I tried, but it was hard, what with tiny souvenir shops perched in crannies of the high stone walls bordering the winding, narrow flight of stairs; hawkers’ hands extending enticing wares, “Only one American dollah,” baiting even the most resolute in our group.
Street beggars extended their hands, also. “Probably fakers,” I told myself. “Like those in cities who claim, ‘Just 75 cents for bus fare,’ and as soon as I give, they snag other victims with the same story.” I averted my eyes, passed on by, reasoning that, after all, scripture says, “You always have the poor among you.”
The day’s pace eased that night, following a top-notch buffet in our posh hotel.
Not until I clambered into our soft, luxurious bed did I remember Jesus commended the poor widow who donated two pennies “all she had” and I wondered, What if those beggars really weren’t fakes and really did need food? And what about me – ogling the beautifully-presented buffet with so many sumptuous choices, I returned twice for seconds? (Thrice to desserts.)
The trip to Israel helps us visualize actual places when we read about them, but the spiritual impact is even deeper: Christmas is to celebrate Christ, not us. Lawrence and I tell our families, “We have too much already. Instead of spending on each other, let’s send that amount to missionaries who’re telling others about the Savior.”
And that’s what we’ve done.
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Isabel Wolseley Torrey is a native of McPherson and grew up on the property now occupied by the Mustang Mobile Park. She’s been a photojournalist for Guideposts and other publications and a freelance newspaper columnist for the past 35 years (14 years for The Sentinel). She now lives in Syracuse, N.Y., but says, “My heart and roots remain in Kansas.”