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Alex & Brenda Awad

In November, Bethlehem celebrated the arrival of its 1 millionth pilgrim of the year. A celebration took place in Manger Square adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, originally built in 329 by Constantine and his mother St. Helena. The church is built over a grotto where it is expected that this December alone some 250,000 Christmas pilgrims will come to visit. Many will make their way to the grotto to worship on bended knee by the star that marks the hallowed ground where Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid him in a manger.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:1-2

The blessing of Christmas for Christians today is the same as on the very first Christmas: God sent his son in human flesh to become the Savior of the world. And just as the star of Bethlehem and angelic choirs drew a chosen few on the first Christmas, worshippers today come to the city to incarnate into their lives the wonder and majesty of the event.

A peaceful climate in the region means that the inns of Bethlehem will be full this Christmas. The Christian community will be encouraged to celebrate and remember through their various traditions the miraculous intervention of God sending Immanuel into our midst.

Although an increase in tourism--a primary source of livelihood for Bethlehemís residents--will help make the season brighter, more understanding about the situation is needed to make the future of Bethlehem and the region secure. With the challenges of the wall isolating the city into an island enclave cut off from Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, Bethlehemís Christians look to their brothers and sisters in Christ around the world for spiritual and moral support. If we could have two wishes this Christmas, the first is that the Christians of Bethlehem and the Holy Land will be encouraged and strengthened spiritually to stay in the land of their birth. The second is to see a peaceful solution to the decadeís long Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

With this short message of Christmas cheer, hope and goodwill, we wish you a very joyful Christmas and pray that your hearts overflow with bountiful blessings from above.

Alex and Brenda Awad