There is nothing like Christmas in the little town Bethlehem. I particularly enjoy singing in the manger square right in front of the nativity church. Thousands gather in Christmas Eve in the square to listen to the singing. My Choir has the privilege of singing in the square every year. I personally have been taking part in this event since 1995. Every year it is a refreshing spiritual experience. It never grows old.
I always share with the Choir how “praise and worship” has a very long tradition in Bethlehem. It began with David the Psalter, and continued almost 2000 years ago when the angles appeared to the shepherds singing “Glory to God in the Highest”. We are proud – yet feel unworthy - to continue this great heritage. We serve a worthy King!
Bethlehem continues to be a small town. This time it is also a besieged small town. There is nothing more depressing than the wall surrounding the town. And yet although this year witnessed a significantly increased number of tourists visiting the town, the reality is that there is lots of pain and despair in the hearts of the people. Christmas season offers a small breath of air for celebrating and rejoicing. Bethlehem suddenly becomes very crowded and alive. The Catholic Patriarch comes to the town in huge march and thousands welcome him. The Palestinian President also comes to the town, and many ambassadors and “important” people. Security is ridiculously high and the traffic becomes crazy annoying. As I was stuck yesterday in traffic, I wondered, “What have we done to Christianity?” I wonder if Jesus comes back to Bethlehem today, with the likes of Mary and Joseph; will there be room in the inn for him? Bethlehem celebrates Christmas today the worldly way. When the celebration is over, everything goes back to where it was, including the depression and despair in the lives of the people.
All of this reminded me of the incredibly humble life Jesus had while on earth. In this Christmas, I was reminded that Jesus was born that he may die for us. He lived a life not for his own sake. He lived for His Father and for those around him: His neighbors, the ones He loved. May we all learn how to give and live for others and not for our own pleasures and desires. I pray this for myself, and for the very small Christian community in the little town of Bethlehem. The amazing thing is that in giving we receive more than we give. There is nothing more rewarding than giving and living for others (Didn’t Jesus somehow say something like this?). This is true worship.
Merry Christmas from Bethlehem!