Spiritual Life

The Holy Land nativity scene was worth the price. ‘You’ll be back,’ the carver said

Every Christmas season, my heart is filled with gratitude for an amazing trip to the Holy Land.

I was a newly committed Christian in 1981, and it just seemed right to see firsthand where Jesus ministered, died and rose again.

My tour of Israel was led by a Catholic priest, a Methodist minister and a conservative Jewish rabbi. Talk about experiencing Israel from different perspectives.

Indeed, the sites and worship services were inspiring. The greatest lesson of my journey, however, came from a wood carver in old Jerusalem.

I met him while searching for a nativity scene carved out of Israel’s olive wood. The man’s shop was one of at least 20 I visited looking for just the right crèche. When I strolled in, I took one look at his work and knew the stable he was carving was the one I had been looking for. Each figure was exquisitely created.

He looked up, smiled and asked, “Are you interested in this stable scene? It will be completed in one hour. Come back. I will hold it for you.”

I was ecstatic. I was also disappointed when he told me the price.

“Fifty-two dollars,” he proudly said.

It was a reasonable price since similar scenes sold for triple that amount or more in the U.S. Still, a bargaining bug came over me. I didn’t want to foolishly accept the deal without negotiating for a lower price. Surprisingly, he didn’t budge.

“Fifty-two dollars,” he insisted.

I stood my ground, thinking he would certainly meet me half way.

He didn’t.

Instead, he confidently said, “Look elsewhere. You’ll be back.”

I walked out the door, convinced he would follow to offer me a better deal.

He didn’t.

Half way down the street, I turned around and caught him smiling at the door, proclaiming, “Fifty-two dollars.”

“Who does this guy think he is?” I murmured to myself. Certainly I would find a similar crèche at a better price elsewhere. Ten shops, three cities, and three days later, I realized the man’s carving was every bit worth his asking price.

I set out to find the carver, despite a nasty cold and an empty feeling that my crèche was gone.

The crowded corridors of Old Jerusalem tend to all look alike. Nonetheless, I trudged through the markets, through the thick aromas of spices and Turkish coffee, and eventually found the shop.

The owner looked up, smiled, and continued carving.

I was so disappointed to see my scene was no longer on display. It had obviously been sold to someone else. That’s when the carver stepped aside. My crèche was sitting on a shelf in the back of the room.

Without hesitation he quipped, “I knew you’d be back. Fifty-two dollars.”

I quickly handed him my cash. He packed up the carving and tossed in a few extra sheep and angels.

As I bid the carver farewell, I pondered how this bargaining episode paralleled my spiritual life.

Since childhood, God had offered me the precious treasure of his love and eternal life.

Still, I put my foot down and refused to receive the gift. In fact, I turned my back on Christ in search of something better.

My 10-year quest proved fruitless.

Enabled by God’s grace, I weaved in and out of dark detours until I returned “to the stable.” All along, God waited and knew I would somehow, someday return.

The moment I submitted my life to God’s leadership, I could almost hear our Lord say, “I knew you’d be back.”

This month, the Jerusalem nativity scene sits in our entry parlor, a tender reminder of a carver and a sacrificed Savior who patiently waited for me.

Is God waiting for you? Perhaps now is the time to stop looking elsewhere. Come back. Your gift is waiting.

Rev. Janine Metcalf is retired pastor of Church of the Nazarene in Richland who speaks in churches and conferences throughout the U.S. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email lluginbill@tricityherald.com.