Tag Archives: Bethlehem

Christmas Message

Although they were excluded from the invitation list at the Annapolis Middle East Conference last year, everyone from the Royal Family and the Prime Minister down, and even the US President and people the world over, will soon be celebrating the visit of an Iranian delegation to Palestine. This Christmas, we will remember how a group of Iranians visited Palestine carrying funding for an opposition figure the authorities wanted dead. Then the Iranians evaded the authorities, ignoring the correct exit procedures and fled the country. Of course, the Queen, Prime Minister and President have not been celebrating contemporary Iranian involvement, but the historic visit of a past Iranian delegation – the Magi (the ‘Wise Men’ or ‘Kings’) who came to Bethlehem bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for Jesus. So without Iran and Iranian involvement, we would not have exchanged gifts on Christmas Day.

Bethlehem is a very special place, especially in the weeks leading to Christmas. Heading south about five miles out of Jerusalem just off the main road to Egypt lies Bethlehem. It’s quite a small town that has sprawled like the tentacles of an octopus along the rocky ridges of the Judean Hills. The Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the world lies at the centre of the town square looking more like a fortress than a place of worship. Given the tensions that have plagued this over-promised land for centuries, it has indeed served as both. The Emperor Hadrian, in AD135, built a grove over the site dedicated to the pagan god Adonis, with the intention of stopping Christians from worshipping there. It had the opposite effect as it marked the site until in AD315 the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, on the conversion of her son, directed that the pagan shrine be demolished and a basilica be erected over the original cave.

In the eighth century when the Persians invaded Palestine, the Church of the Nativity was the only church to be left standing, simply because they found a painting hanging inside depicting the three wise men whom they took to be Persians. As any pilgrim will discover, Bethlehem is an ordinary place, smelly, dusty, dirty, noisy, and this says something about the identification of God with us in our ordinary situations. The scene of Jesus lying in a stone feeding trough with Mary and Joseph huddled at the back of a cave surrounded by animals sheltering from the cold is not hard to imagine when you visit the barren hills of  Beit Sahour which literally means ‘the shepherds fields’, on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

Shepherds were considered the lowest of the low in those days, indeed they would virtually have been viewed as criminals. Many of the shepherds today are Bedouins, roaming the hills of Judea, living a nomadic life unchanged by thousands of years, alienated from modern civilised Israeli society, a law unto themselves. Yet it was to such as these that the birth of the Son of God is first announced.  News of the “Saviour” and the possibility of “peace” is proclaimed to them, and it is they who carry this news to Mary and Joseph and to all who will listen.

Malcolm Muggeridge once speculated what the situation would be if Jesus were born today.  He said rather provocatively, “He would have been born a Palestinian.” By this he meant that because there is no room for them even in their own country. They are forgotten, hounded from country to country – a curiously similar fate to the other children of Abraham, the Jews. For the Palestinians there is no room at the inn, even in their own society. The irony is that if Mary and Joseph were making the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem this year they would never make it. The town of Bethlehem is entirely surrounded by a wall eight meters high with watch towers every few hundred metres.

Despite the military occupation, the home demolitions and confiscation of much of the shepherds fields for illegal settlements, Bethlehem has a message of hope for all who are forgotten, where ever they may be – God does not forget, God knows, God sees and God will act with justice and mercy. He will not leave us alone.  The message of the angels was “Emmanuel” – God with us.

Although many to whom he came rejected him, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

May you know the assurance of being born again this Christmas. The Son of God was born so that you might be born a child of God. In Jesus Christ, we find a life that overcomes death, a love that conquers hate, the truth that prevails over falsehood, and light, light that ever shines in the world’s darkness. May the light of Christ shine upon you and those you love, this Christmas and for evermore.

An article written for the December edition of Connection, the community magazine of Virginia Water, based on a sermon from last Christmas

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Bethlehem

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

The first occasion in which Bethlehem is mentioned in history has been found in the Amarna letters written from tribal kings of Palestine to the Egyptian pharaohs probably sometime between 1400-1360 B.C. The ruler in Jerusalem complains that Bit-Lahmi has deserted to the ‘Apiru people, a word probably referring to the Hebrews. Bethlehem is about 9 kilometres south of Jerusalem just off the main road to Hebron and Egypt. A strategic position perched 750 metres above sea level, the town sprawls out along several limestone ridges like the tentacles of an octopus. To the east lies Beit Sahour which means the Shepherd’s Fields and the barren hills of the Judean desert. To the west are more fertile slopes around Beit Jala where corn and figs, olive fields and vineyards abound.

The town of Bethlehem is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Its location became sacred when Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel by the road side near the entrance to Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:19; 48:7). It is possible that Salma, the son of Caleb, built the first Jewish settlement there (1 Chronicles 2:51). The town and surrounding fields also feature prominently in the romantic love story of Ruth and Boaz who became the great-grandparents of David (Ruth 1; 2:4; 4:11). The town grew in prominence when Samuel anointed the shepherd boy David, to be king of Israel there (1 Samuel 16:4-13). By New Testament times Bethlehem had come to be known as ‘The town of David’ (Luke 2:4,11).

Around 700 B.C. the prophet Micah predicted that someone greater than David would be born in Bethlehem whose origins, incredibly, would be earlier than his human birth (Micah 5:2). When the Magi came from the East searching for the one to be born king of the Jews, Herod consulted with the chief priests and biblical scholars, who it seems knew full well the significance of Micah’s prophecy (Luke 2:1-8; John 7:42).

Bethlehem is therefore unique. It is the place where Almighty God, the Creator of the universe, entered our world and became a human being. It is hard to comprehend the wonder and enormity of this fact. Words cannot improve on the declaration of the angels to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11).

Under the Church of the Nativity, probably the oldest church in the world and best authenticated site in the Holy Land, is a simple cave. In the silence of this ancient site, best visited in the early morning, it is possible to pause and worship near the place where the Lord Jesus Christ was born. To enter the church one must first stoop low below the lintel. The tallest must stoop the furthest, only children can enter without bending down. What a lesson in humility.

For many, Bethlehem and the Christmas story is the place where they first begin to experience the meaning of that enigmatic phrase “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), for here in this place time, eternity and destiny meet in Jesus.

Incidentally, in Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘The house of bread’. How appropriate that the One who said “I am the Bread of Life” should be born in the house of bread. On another occasion Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” (John 6:54-55). Let us indeed feed on Him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

This chapter is taken from my book, In the Footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles

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Bethlehem Christmas Project


Every December, the Bethlehem Christmas Project brings together, American, Israeli, and Palestinian followers of Christ to deliver gifts to orphans, children with special needs, and children suffering from post-traumatic stress in Bethlehem. The gifts we deliver include clothing, educational games, and toys. After nearly a year in production, the project recently released it’s 2nd film.

You can view the six-minute film here to learn more about the project’s vision and work.

We hope you will support us as we deliver Christmas gifts to children who are very much in need. The project delivers gifts to Christians and Muslims alike as we are here to serve all those who are in need. Please help make our project possible by visiting our donations page.

Our team of thirteen individuals from the U.S. will leave to Bethlehem on December 5th. We will be updating our website daily until we return on the 13th. Please pray for us and be sure to sign-up to our blog to receive our updates.

The video about the Bethlehem Christmas Project is also viewable on YouTube

You can also follow us on Twitter

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