10:18 pm

Yes.  It is late.  Did you notice?  I did.  Every day I think that we can’t get more exhausted, and yet, we do.  This day was extremely long and the troops are wearing out.  We didn’t get back to the hotel tonight until 7 pm.  Really?  That’s a couple of hours longer than planned.  So by the time we eat.  Walk for gelato (plus encounter a most pleasant surprise) it was almost 9 before I could begin to upload pix and shower and blog (in that order, btw).  But phase three is upon me. And I am awake.  For now.

We started the day by getting down to the bus by 8.  That’s not too bad, we’ve had some earlier starts lately (like tomorrow’s meet in the lobby at 7:35).  We took the bus around to the Dung Gate and walked up to the security screening to enter the Temple Mount.  Everything in Jerusalem is up, so it seems.  Lots of steps here and there and stones which just pound the feet over the course of the day.  I measured 14,673 steps today.  Most of them on stones.

We made it quickly through security and found ourselves walking on the wooden ramp up to the Temple Mount. A couple of our ladies were indecent, by their standards – so they provided skirts for them to wear.  Margaret had to button up in about 20 minutes, so the Muslims like to keep things modest for sure.

We spent a over an hour on the Temple Mount, learning its history and function in the modern world. And, its biblical significance.  We saw the back side of the Eastern (Golden) Gate.  We caught a glimpse of the original mosaic work that used to cover the exterior of the Dome of the Rock.  It is now tile, because of its much easier maintenance.

We left the Temple Mount near the Lion’s Gate and made a left toward the Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne’s church.  Benny explained the significance of the site and I read from John 5.  Then we went in to sing at St. Anne’s.  I love that.
Then we were off to follow the route of the Via Dolorosa.  Not really my favorite thing to do in Jerusalem.  The historical inaccuracy and theological manipulation of the text do not warm my heart.  But Benny moved us along nicely. A church here and there broke up the walk.  Well, that and the throngs of people filling up the streets made it hard to keep together.  But we didn’t lose anyone.

We ended up (of course) in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Guess what?  It was full of people.  Those who chose went up to Golgotha.  Then we had to walk around the back way to catch a glimpse of the “empty tomb.”  The line was huge to get inside.  But we know it is not the real tomb, so why bother?  Granted, it might be on the right spot, but this tomb structure is so far above the first century tomb – it can’t be real.

Back out of the church and we opted for lunch.  As we walked around, I asked where Benn planned to go.  I suggested my rooftop view restaurant.  We went there – and those I’ve already worn out made it up to the roof – without complaining. The shawarma was delicious – and I hear so was the falafel.

Back down the stairs and out of the Old City.  A couple of folks opted not to head to Bethlehem.  Our first stop was Herodion, the palace of Herod the Great which became his choice for his burial chamber.  They’ve done some nice work. They have revealed a bath house – but we didn’t go check out the burial chamber or theater.  I shared a devotional using the geography and setting us up for Bethlehem. 

It was back down the “mountain” and time for a reward.  A white chocolate Magnum bar was calling my name.  And I obeyed.  I mean it was really hot at Herodion and we really did trek up a lot of steps to get to the top.
Then we had to drive out of the area to drop off Benny.  Being an Israeli, by law he is not allowed to enter the city of Bethlehem itself.  So we drove him out and then came back in.  We picked up a guide from the olivewood shopping store (Elias) and he took us just down the street to Shepherd’s Field.

We’d had enough of churches – but we got to visit the Angel church first.  Then I asked to go down to the Shepherd’s fields and a cave.  Well, after we read Luke 2 and did a short devotional.

It’s now 4:30 – and we still have to shop AND visit the Church of the Nativity.  Uh, folks….we need to get a move on.  Well, it is shopping and that is never a fast item on the program.  The place has a brand new store – only open for 18 months.  I think they opened it right after I was here in 2018.  It’s lovely.  And the restrooms?  Amazing.

By 5:30 we were all done shopping.  Off to the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in all of Christianity.  Elias continued to guide us (he’s just a young kid, btw).  He did fine.  The church was not as crowded as usual (well, it’s almost time for dinner….) but the line was still too long to get down into “the cave.”  We got a nice overview of the church and the extensive renovations it is currently undergoing.

Back on the bus by 6:30 and on our way “home.”  We were all very happy to be heading back to the hotel.  We got here about 7:10 I guess.  I announced dinner at 7:30.  And in the lobby at 7:35 in the morning.  I forgot to add….gelato at 8:15.  Hey, I skipped desert at the hotel – so a small cup of gelato is well deserved.  Right?

Nine of us headed out about 8:15.  We had a shop to stop at on the way – but the goal was really the gelato.  Until….
We walked by a house (we didn’t know it was a house right away).  There’s a large sign up high touting a basketball player.  And below are multiple signs wishing us all a Merry Christmas from Jerusalem.  The Ho Ho Holyland.  Tonight Christmas music was even playing and a smiling gregarious face was peering over the balcony at us.  We exchanged greetings and then he asked us if we wanted to come in and check out his Christmas display.

The ladies were all over that.  So what choice did we have? But…gelato is waiting….

He came downstairs and opened the door for us to come inside.  It was clear pretty quickly that this was the player touted above for his basketball prowess.  His smile was wide and bright. And his energy was certainly contagious – and we needed to catch some for sure in our current state of exhaustion.

What followed was an explanation of what he considers his current mission in the world.  He is The Jerusalem Santa.  He played basketball for 25 years, then retired.  Now, he’s the Jerusalem Santa (you have to check out the pix on the blog).  He has a two room studio downstairs.  The first one has a sleigh – and it is used for people to take pictures in.  And, as we found out, it has a snow machine which showers the occupants with snow – soapy snow, but snow.

Inside the second room there is more Christmas kitsch than can really fit in the space.  It’s really very nice, tho.  There’s a desk for Santa to do his correspondence.  A Christmas tree, of course.  Tons of Christmas decorations  And there are “Santa school” diplomas on the wall (three of them if I recall).  He’s been to three Santa schools in the US – a couple in Denver and one in Gatlinburg.

This guy as more energy than all of use put together.

He then began to explain what he does.  He uses the Santa gig to tell the story of Jesus.  He says, Jesus was born here and yet we don’t do Christmas right.  We don’t decorate.  We don’t tell the story.  We just don’t do it properly.  So he has decorated everything to the max – and when the children come to visit he tells them the story of Jesus. And….this Jesus was born here – in Israel – in Bethlehem.  They are amazed  Last Christmas he got over 12,000 children coming into that place to meet Santa.  They are Jews and Christians and Muslims.  And very few of them know the story of the birth of Jesus – so he tells them.  He’s amazing.

In January he is bring almost 100 Santa’s to Israel to tour and see the land and see what he does.  He is just infectious in his enthusiasm.  The Ministry of Tourism loves him.  And he’s the only Middle East Santa at the convention of Santa’s.  Who know all that was going on?

I who has scoffed at the concept of Santa in the Holy Land have repented of my scoffing.  This guy has a great ministry using Santa to tell the story of Jesus.  He’s amazing.  And there is a missions project in there somewhere. He has a really hard time getting candy canes in Israel. They are hugely expensive – so on my next trip I think I should bring a bunch of candy canes to the Old City.  He’ll use them to share the Gospel. And candy over here is a big treat.

Not sure I did that encounter justice.  But we prayed with him and bid our farewells.  And we were off to gelato.  The shopping we had hoped to do didn’t work out (the store was closed).  But gelato was open. And we enjoyed it.  A lot.  I already have my flavor picked out for tomorrow night (mint chocolate chip).  A few of us were in the mint mode after the Christmas emphasis – and it was delicious tonight.

Yes, we are all exhausted.  We do sleep well (at least I do).  Tomorrow is guess what….another full day.  City of David.  Temple steps.  Tunnels.  And then the museums in the afternoon.  Museums aren’t exhausting….are they?

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