The date is Tuesday 22nd of November this year. I am deep into the deserts of Palestine, a few miles south of Bethlehem. The sun is shining, it is hot, and I am half running across a deep valley. Without any warning there is a muddy area just ahead of me and a few seconds later I find myself searching for my shoes in all the mud. I find them, but look quite dirty and messy after a while.
I forget all about my dirty shoes and trousers when I stand above a beautiful byzantine mosaic, almost shining out of the sand and dust, in the middle of an undiscovered church ruin. I put my ears to the ground and I can hear the sound of a donkey walking through the desert, I hear it through the centuries, because the donkey I hear, walked though this same valley two thousand years ago, carrying a young girl called Mary and her baby son, Jesus. Josef and his small family from Nazareth in Galilee were fleeing to Egypt. They were young; they were migrants, on their way to become emigrants and then immigrants to Egypt. Homeless, poor, displaced and very young.
I listen to the sound of the donkey walking through the desert and I think of all the young migrants and immigrants, all the displaced and uprooted young people we work with in the YMCA. I look through the centuries and see Josef and Mary and their baby son Jesus and I see them as the people we work with and for in the YMCA. We work with people like this small family every day, and we do not know when it is the Prince of Peace , the Son of God or just a kid from Turkey or Palestine. We work with them all, because we are all inclusive. We work with them, if they ride on donkeys or look really muddy all the way up to their knees.
I listen again, and I look through the centuries, I hear the donkey and I see the family walking past me in the valley below. I want to shout to Josef and ask him to be careful with the muddy area ahead of them, where I just lost my shoes.
But my mouth is shut, my voice is silent. For what I hear is the donkey carrying the Hope of mankind, what I see is Mary holding the child from Isaiah chapter 9, versus 6: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In silence I see the small family disappearing behind the sand dunes on their way to Egypt. The sound of a donkey in the desert…
Christmas is Incarnation. Meaning God becomes like us. God comes very close to us. Tuesday the 22nd of November this year God came very close to me when I almost heard the sound of the donkey and could almost see the holy family passing by me in the valley below the beautiful mosaic I was admiring in the desert.
It was nothing religious in my feelings when I walked into the shoe shop in Bethlehem late that evening. I had not been very successful cleaning the mud from my destroyed shoes, and the trousers looked like the trousers of a beggar. I had to flash my credit cards to be served at all. I felt very much like an old and dirty donkey coming in from the desert…
Now I have new shoes from Bethlehem. The shoes preach to me every day while I walk around. They are good shoe sermons for down-to-earth YMCA people.
I like playing with words. So I hope you will allow me to wish you a Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year. Maybe a year so Merry that you once in a while will walk out of your shoes. It can be good for you! And you may need new shoes from Bethlehem for Christmas.