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Resilient in Bethlehem

Alex Awad

Resilient in Bethlehem
Rev. Alex Awad

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
MT 1:20-25 (NIV)

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
MT 2:7-8 (NIV)

The Christian community in Bethlehem is celebrating the birth of Christ this year with a determined sense of hope and enthusiasm. The streets around the Church of the Nativity that witnessed great damage and pain in the last few years are repaired, renovated and decorated with ornaments shining against the darkness of the harsh political realities. Strolling or driving down the narrow alleys of the city, locals and visitors gaze on electrical and digital signs, dazzling with artistically rounded letters that proclaim “Merry Christmas” and “Peace on Earth” in more than one language. As contemporary Bethlehemites celebrate, you will see on their streets live Santas - not as fat as the ones you see elsewhere in the world - ringing bells and giving out holiday sweets. This will be a time of festivity in Bethlehem regardless of the newly built eight meter high wall that encircles the city and its surrounding suburbs, cutting it off from her sister Jerusalem (6 miles away) and the rest of the world. The choirs of Bethlehem and visiting choirs will sing as usual the carols of angels, shepherds, wise men and of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus despite the choking economic conditions that drained the financial strength of the city in the last four years. They will proclaim ‘Peace on Earth and goodwill towards humankind” in the face of current conflict and unrest. Bells over the Church of Nativity will ring the Christmas anthems calling the faithful to come and adore Emanuel. The high wall will not hinder these Christmas chimes but with the speed of light, via satellite, their echo will reach the homes of the faithful throughout the world.

The resiliency of the Christian community in and around Bethlehem reflects the devotion of men and women whom God called to participate in the first advent. Take, for example, the true life story of a professor at Bethlehem Bible College. He leaves his home near Ramallah at 6 AM daily to make his way to Bethlehem. His journey of 1-2 hours takes him through numerous checkpoints, roadblocks and dangerous conditions. He travels on foot and by public transportation when available; he is frequently stopped and he and the passengers on the bus interrogated. On one occasion a rubber bullet from a soldier’s gun pierced the window of the taxi in which he was traveling and entered his knee. Nevertheless he is determined to make it to Bethlehem to carry out the ministry God called him to do. He shows up faithfully with a big smile and encourages his students, most of whom are prevented from leaving the city of Bethlehem. Nothing deters this professor from fulfilling his mission.

Such were the faithful saints of first advent as they waited on the promise of God. They did not allow the Herods and the Caesars of their political world to dampen their spirits or to hinder their search for the newborn King. Resilient Joseph traveled the harsh terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem refusing to turn his back on Mary while enduring the possibility of being accused of a scandal. The three wise men, after failing to find the promised child, could have turned home frustrated and disheartened but they resolved to keep searching until they found the star that led them to the manger where the Savior of humanity was born.

The Christmas season with all its hustle and bustle may add to the pressures that Christians everywhere confront day after day. We can take heart when we reflect on the attitudes of the saints of the first advent and contemporary citizens of Bethlehem. We can resolutely join them in worshiping Christ and seeking peace on earth and goodwill to all of God’s people.