I have often said that Luke 3:1 is the most important verse in the entire Bible. “In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was king of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to a man named John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.”
It is the most important line because it is saying our faith is not based upon “once upon a time.” It is not a fairy tale. It is not make-believe. It is not “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
No. It is clear. In this time and in this place, the word of God came to John. And Mary. And Joseph. And Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Spirit acts in real people, in real time. Theologically we call it, “incarnation.”
Knowing that makes our WMA pilgrimage to the Holy Land a deep spiritual experience. In this time and in this place God acted. Now sometimes there are conflicting stories as to where things happen. It is said “holy sites tend to move.” But there is no doubt that it is the Sea of Galilee where so many powerful stories of Jesus and the disciples happened. No doubt that it is the Jordan River where John baptized. No doubt that it is the Jericho Road featured in the Good Samaritan story. And no doubt somewhere in old Jerusalem is the Temple built by Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt by Herod and destroyed by the Romans. Lots of sacred sites have very old churches built over them because oral history said “this was the place where…”
I will reflect more on this experience over time. But here are two immediate impressions.
I never knew how much caves and rocks were part of the housing in the times of Jesus. That barn where we say Jesus was born was really a cave. Families lives in homes homes built with hewn rocks and carved out caves.
For the first time I appreciated the mysticism of the desert. Pictures never do it justice. The desert of Israel is not plains of sand. They are mountains of rock and sand and sparse vegetation. To be in them is to be in a place of awe and vulnerability.
And there is a lot to say about the political conflict in Israel and the oppression of the Palestinians. But a few words would not do justice to a complex situation with many conflicting dimensions. And there is much to say about the tension of the three major religions jockeying for position in this holy land. I will tell those stories in future reflections.
In a couple of days I will leave here with deep gratitude for this experience and for the way my traveling companions engaged this trip not as tourists but as pilgrims on a spiritual journey together. And looking forward to the Spirit who continues to speak in our time and in our place.