I have been in a season of advent since August.

For months, I have been waiting for news about my dream opportunity. I have held back from any long-term commitments for the sake of a possibility. I have been expectantly been waiting for news—any news.

But then the news came. And it wasn’t at all what I had hoped.

I was so convinced it would be good news.

And now it feels like my waiting was all for nothing.

Last weekend, one of my friends invited me on a Journey to Bethlehem—an interactive experience of the journey many families undertook to enroll in the Roman census. We just happened to be traveling on the night Jesus was born.

We arrived at six p.m. and were directed down the street to an overflow lot. We stood in line and waited for a bus—creatively nicknamed a “camel” by event volunteers—to take us to the main church building. Our “camel” dropped us off at the back of an endlessly snaking mass of people. We squeezed into our place in line, made friends with the family in front of us, and braced ourselves for what would be a much longer wait than we ever expected.

In line, we were told it would take about twenty minutes to reach the front. Well, that was bologna because twenty minutes in we had moved approximately one sixth of the way through the line, and I had lost all feeling in all of my toes—of course, it was also twenty-six degrees that night.

And so we waited. We chatted about our weekends, our jobs, our upcoming Christmas cookie decorating party. We tried not to be bothered by the rambunctious group behind us wearing glow sticks and repeatedly stepping on our feet. We sang along with the carolers that were stationed outside to keep us entertained. We stood outside freezing and laughing and wondering: how long must we wait?

When we made it inside, we had another hour of (warmer) waiting to go.

And then our group—our traveling “family”—was finally called for our journey. We were all given papers with a fictional name and Biblical lineage and then ushered through the gym doors into an entirely different world.

The first room was a bustling marketplace. Volunteers were dressed in authentic garb and announcing the price of their vegetables and necklaces and chickens. (Yes, someone actually walked up to us holding a live chicken.)  Everyone expressed wishes of shalom and safe journey to Bethlehem. And after all the freezing waiting, standing in that busy marketplace amongst color and noise, I remembered: I’m going to Bethlehem.

And then out of nowhere, a strong hand grabbed my arm and shoved me forward. The hand brought me up to the front of the group with my two friends, the rest of our “family” unsure how to react.

“These three look like they have money, just look at their purses! You are not a poor family after all,” a Roman soldier barked at our group, demanding we pay our theoretical taxes.

Well clearly these volunteers were committed to staying in character. We were released only after convincing the soldiers we were carrying bread in our bags (I do carry snacks at all times, so this wasn’t a total lie).

Along our journey, we encountered more “families,” all of whom were sitting by warm fires next to farm animals and eager to share Scripture and wish us shalom. We met Levi the priest, the three Magi, the shepherds, and even witnessed the angels bring the good news of great joy.

And then we finally made it to the manger. I don’t know what exactly made that scene so powerful—the room was tiny and the ceilings were low and the child in the manger was clearly a baby doll—but when our group “father” said to us, “Come family, we are so blessed to have found Jesus tonight,” and my friend next to me whispered “Amen,” I knew that the waiting in the cold had been worth it.

My lifelong waiting for my Messiah, for a better world, for hopes to be fulfilled, will not be in vain. The disappointment I feel now will not be my song forever—I know this to be true. I saw it in Bethlehem.

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