“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” Matthew 2:6
One of my favorite Christmas carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” was
written by Phillips Brooks in 1865 after he visited the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine. The song reminds me of a calm, quiet, and restful night with the stars shining and a feeling of love and peace. No worries and no concerns.
I had the opportunity in 2008 and 2010 to visit the Holy Land with Volunteers in Mission and stayed in Bethlehem –the first time at the “Bethlehem Inn” (they did have room) and the second time at the “Holy Family” hotel. When Jesus was born, Bethlehem was a little town with a population less than a thousand. Today, Bethlehem is not such a little town, as there are 27,000 in Bethlehem plus 33,000 more in surrounding districts. Nor is it now a Jewish town. It is a
Palestinian town of Muslims, Jews and Christians, all who claim a part in the town’s heritage. They live peacefully side by side (despite what you read in the news reports). One evening we walked from our hotel to the Church of the Nativity, the site where Jesus was born. In the daytime it is bustling with people, but that evening it was very quiet and it was a time to reflect on Jesus’ birth -- God loved us enough to send his son so we would not perish but have everlasting life.
I remember the people in Bethlehem; the welcoming hospitality of the Palestinians; the Jewish organizations working with Palestinians on peace and justice issues; Peacemakers from various Christian denominations, including the United Methodist Church; all of them showing the love and peace of Christ.
When you hear the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” may you also feel his love and peace. Join with me as I pray for those who live in Bethlehem with words from this familiar Christmas Carol.
Our Father, thank you for sending Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. I pray for all of our sisters and brothers in Palestine – Muslim, Jews and Christians. We are all sisters and brothers through our shared spiritual father, Abraham, and our
shared Heavenly Father, the one Creator God of the whole universe. Jesus is the Everlasting Light who handles all our hopes and fears. May we feel this love and peace as we sing, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our
Lord Emmanuel. “ Amen