Thoughts on Bethlehem Before Epiphany

This post really should have gone up before Christmas. But better late than never. In some Christian traditions Epiphany is on it’s way. For some this commemorates the visit of the “wise men” in Bethlehem (appropriately separate from the visit of the shepherds). So even though the mad rush of the Consumerist Christmas season is over, I hope you find these thoughts on Bethlehem thought provoking and in line with the true spirit of the Season (be it advent, Christmas, Epiphany, or whatever).

O little town of Bethlehem

Manger Square Xmas 2007.  Photo by Michael Gartner, Dec 2007.  Used with permission.Christians in Bethlehem made the most they could of Christmas this year. It was perhaps the most festive celebration in a long time. Eyewitnesses report 60,000 people in a packed Manger Square. Not many years ago, the square was deserted out of security fears. For the past few years, pilgrims have been allowed into the walled city by armed Israeli soldiers through an ominous gate. Last year, a billowing banner proclaimed “peace be with you”Bethlehem’s Gate.  Photo by Dr. Gary Fields, Jul 2006.  Used with Permission. in three languages. I suppose the 25 foot high concrete wall gives Israelis a certain sense of peace, but what about those “free” to live inside it’s imposing concrete confinement. The wall snakes tightly around the city where Christ was born, the ancestral home of King David. I’m not sure “peace” and “safety” and “freedom” are the messages received by those living inside the wall. Some of them have Bethlehem Security Wall.  Photo by Dr. Gary Fields, Aug 2006.  Used with permission.been permanently cut off from olive groves and fields that belonged to their family for centuries. Travel is severely restricted , and those who can get through often wait in line for hours before sunrise in hopes of getting to work on time.

All of this makes me think about God’s activity in and around this little town of Bethlehem, both today and in years past. Today one might wonder what God is up to in Bethlehem. However, in the Christmas story it seems obvious God was working towards peace on earth. Certainly, most Christians would affirm that God’s timing in bringing Jesus into the world was perfect. But, at the time, that might not have been clear from a human perspective.

Jesus was born destitute to an impoverished mother and father under certain social stigma. His mother was forced to give birth in the most unsanitary of environments. He was born into a country and people under brutal military occupation (the Romans had recently publicly crucified 3000 people). Their own king was a puppet of Rome and a murderous despot whose jealousy would force this tiny family to flee their home on foot as refugees.

Despite all these difficulties, the family was still able to receive visitors that day their child was born. A few humble shepherds, the only other witnesses of the divine miracle that took place on that first Christmas. Perfect timing. But . . . I wonder . . . what if God’s timing had been different? What if he had sent Jesus into the world today?

If Jesus had been born in Bethlehem today, it is likely his parents would still be poor. They would be living under the grip of military occupation. Their ownNativity Security.  Unk source.  If you know the artist, contact me so I can give proper credit. leaders would be greedy and pursuing murderous goals. He would likely be a refugee. However, it is unlikely anyone else would have ever witnessed the miracle of his first few hours. The humble shepherds would have been held back at gunpoint at the heavy metal gate for hours while their documentation was checked. They probably would have been denied entry. And the young couple would most likely have never been approved exit to flee to Egypt for their own safety and that of their precious newborn. (If they had ever made it to Bethlehem in the first place, Nazareth is in Israel proper – requiring at least two checkpoint crossings to get to Bethlehem, possibly more.)

Jesus, Prince of Peace, Savior of the World, born to bridge the gap between God and man, as well as break down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. Over 2000 years later that wall still stands, in stark 25 foot-tall concrete sections. Punctuated by watchtowers and armed guards. I thank God that Jesus was born when he was, but wonder what would have happened if he had been born today? Would the shepherds or wise-men make their visits? Would the family be able to flee? Would the boy grow into manhood?

Would the message of the newborn Prince of Peace include armed soldiers, suicide bombers & security walls? Would it include stealing your enemy’s fields, killing their kids at night clubs, demolishing their homes with bulldozers, or blowing up their buses? If Jesus were born today would his solution for peace include re-building an ancient temple or claiming a city as his capital? Would he sit down at negotiating tables to help broker a peace-deal? Or would he overturn those tables in favor of a just solution that would surprise everyone?

O little town of Bethlehem . . . the hopes and fears of all the years are still met in thee tonight.

The YouTube video below is a thought provoking musical commentary on the current situation. The photos and video give good context if you you can’t visualize what’s going on. The video is 4:44 and clicking on the box below takes you to YouTube’s website.

[note on photos: The Manger Square photo is from world traveler Michael G. He gave me permission to use this pic from his amazing Flickr photo set chronicling his year-long globe trek (here). The photos of the wall around Bethlehem are from Dr. Gary Fields, a prof. at UC San Diego. He gave me permission to use these pic from his Palestine photo gallery (here). He is also working on a book about Palestine, and has written an interesting Christmas in Bethlehem story from 2004 on a website with excellent resources about the situation in Bethlehem and Palestine.]

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4 Responses

  1. […] glut of headlines for that complex region of the world. From what I can tell from the first post, Thoughts on Bethlehem before Epiphany, there will be a bunch of insightful and provocative stuff coming. You might consider adding this […]

  2. I too am glad to see some activity. Probably most struck by the images of the wall in this video. These are not photos that we see very often in the media. Interesting and sad.

  3. Thanks Lori – the snow-fall is a special-effect courtesy of worpress (my blog provider). Unfortunately it is only available through Jan 2nd. I kind of like it too. Thanks for checking in! =)

  4. I am glad that you have a blog up and running again. I look forward to reading your posts. I like the snow fall effect.

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