As we got off the bus, we saw a tent belonging to a bedouin family. Farther from the road, two or three children were watching a flock of sheep grazing there on the hills outside Bethlehem. Our tour group was finishing a two-week stay in Israel, and we had come to Shepherds’ Field for a testimony meeting.
As we sat on the rocky hillside and looked in one direction, we could see Bethlehem. If we looked slightly to the left in another direction, we could see Herodium, a fortified mountain atop which Herod the Great had built a luxurious palace complete with pools, gardens, and two hundred white marble steps. We had visited it earlier in the day. Now, looking at it, I felt as if it represented all the material successes one could ever wish for. On the other hand, the village of Bethlehem seemed to symbolize everything I had learned about Jesus during our visit to the Holy Land.
I looked back and forth, from Bethlehem to Herodium. The question came to me: Which am I choosing? Of course I want to follow the Savior. But are my day-to-day decisions and actions taking me in a different direction?
As we sang Christmas carols and shared testimonies, I thought of how easy it is to make the wrong things our first priority. How easy it is to expend a lot of time and worry on things that are of little consequence in an eternal frame of reference. How easy it is to pretend that material possessions are forever! And how difficult it is to remember that Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.” (Matt. 6:24.)
The question would not go away: In which direction am I going? Then, over and over again, almost like a prayer, I heard the words of the shepherds: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” (Luke 2:15.)
I have thought of that experience often since returning home—the sun dropping behind the Judaean hills, the flock of sheep nearby, and the peace I felt as I recommitted myself to worry less about the things of the world and to seek more diligently the kingdom of God.
Sometimes still I can hear the shepherds from that long-ago night on a hill far away, saying, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem.” And I remind myself to choose wisely. Herodion lies in ruins, but Bethlehem remains.