Last night, our family was blessed with the opportunity to join in the Bethlehem Walk at the Salem Baptist Church in Goochland, VA. The walk allows you to take an hour-long journey through Christ's life in surroundings that replicate those He would have experienced. Ian and Elliott had both expressed curiosity as to what Bethlehem looked like at the time of Christ's birth, so it was a wonderful experience for them. (As a side note, when we pulled up and there was a large parking lot full of cars and buses and a thousand or so people waiting in line in a roped off maze, Ian asked, obviously confused, if that was what Bethlehem looked like. Katie quickly responded that we hadn't yet entered the Bethlehem portion of the evening.)
The drama was well done and did as good a job as one can do with one hour to present the incredibly active and complicated life of Christ. The last stop of the walk was a visit with Nicodemus, who was known to have shown favor to Christ. Nicodemus talked to us "travelers" about what it meant to live a new life - to be born again - once you have come to know and believe the story of Christ. He asked us: now that you know and believe this story, what will you make of this Christ?
I know the question was designed to prompt me to take a look at myself. But before I went too deeply there, I recalled the life of Nelson Mandela, who we had learned passed away just hours before our Bethlehem Walk. I've always likened Mandela to one of my biblical heroes, Paul. Paul made as lasting an impact on the direction of humanity as a human can make, much of it from inside the walls of a prison. Paul, like Mandela, spoke often about what he learned about himself while held captive. It was from prison that Paul declared he had learned the secret of contentment, that he could do all things through Christ.
Nelson Mandela once said in a letter to his wife: "The cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being."
I know for me, when answering the question - not what will I make of this Christ - but rather, what have I been making of this Christ, my honest answer is not nearly enough. Too often I am concerned more about what I am making of my finances and my position in the community, what I am making of my government and even my family. Not often enough are my actions preceded by the question, what will this make of my Christ. And not often enough is that based on internal factors.
I don't think it's coincidental that two of the most influential humans in our history have accomplished so much behind the walls of a prison, where they were left with nothing but their own hearts and passions and desires, and few consequences left to discourage them from acting upon them. I don't find it surprising that two men who landed in prison as a result of incredible displays of courage would be emboldened by the understanding they gained of themselves, and by their growing faith in Christ.
Bono is quoted as saying this about Mandela: "In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he (learned) that love would do a better job."
In the end, that is the summary of the Bethlehem Walk. It is the story of Christ. So many of Christ's lessons focus on the power of love over hate. As I look to make more of this Christ in my life, I hope to cling to the Christ-like examples set by Paul and Nelson Mandela, and although their impact was likely too grand to measure this side of heaven, the secret to their influence is well within my grasp and yours. They simply learned that love would do a better job than hate, and found the courage to focus on that job every day.