May the Spirit of Bethlehem live on in our hearts. Not only on December 25th, but all year long
OH Bethlehem what have they done to you?
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I have been privileged to visit Bethlehem more than 40 times out of more than 60 total visits to Israel. The first time was in 1964. Now it is sadly listed among the places, like London (my hometown) and Cairo that I never will visit again. In 1995 the birthplace of the Prince of Peace was turned over to the “Palestinian Authority” under the terms of the Oslo Peace Accord.
At the time of my first visit to Bethlehem it was under occupation by the Jordanian army as was most of Jerusalem. There was a “Berlin Wall” of barbed wire and sentry towers between what the United Nations defined as Israel and the part occupied by Jordan. One needed a passport and special visas to go from one side to the other.
Then came the Six Day War when Israel was attacked by Arab armies and fought back taking back much of the land of Judea and Samaria, including Bethlehem which had been deeded to it by God and recorded in the Bible.
Life was good in Israel after the Six Day War. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, I had many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian friends in Jerusalem. Most of my friends were Arabs. The Muslims were not militant in those days and on many evenings six or eight of us would pile into a car and drive the ten minutes to Bethlehem to eat in one of the cafes around manger square or drink coffee on the main street. There we were joined by other Muslim or Christian Arab friends for a night of friendly conversation.
One by one my Muslim friends disappeared under threats by militant Muslims that they must not consort with the enemy. Soon there were none of them left.
Most of my friends in Bethlehem were Christian Arab businessmen, including the Christian Mayor of the town. But after 1995 when the Israeli army pulled back to a place between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, my Christian Arab friends told of threats and boycotts by the Muslims. Each time I visited the town more Christian families had left to find new homes in the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America. When we visited in 2000 we had lunch in a small restaurant that was famous for its good Middle Eastern food. We arrived early and as we sat in the center of the room we noticed groups of men in olive green uniforms coming in and taking up tables around us. Each carried a rifle and laid it on the floor beside their table. A big screen television played film of Arafat and Fatah men in training accompanied by military music. A local man told us we were in the meeting place of Arafat’s army. The food was still good, but we finished quickly and left.
For 3,000 years Bethlehem has been a Jewish town and still is because God deeded it to His People Israel, and specifically to the tribe of Judah. There are no Jews and few Christians left in Bethlehem today because they have been forced out.
Over the centuries Bethlehem was invaded and ruled by Samaritans, Byzantines, Persians, Romans, Crusaders, Egyptians, Mamluks, Syrians, Turks and British. All of those great empires have fallen into the garbage dump of history.
Bethlehem is situated in the hills of Judea about 9 kilometers (6 miles) from Jerusalem. It is first mentioned in Genesis 35:16 as the place near where Jacob’s wife Rachel died.
“So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.” (Gen 35:19-20)
Bethlehem was the meeting place of Ruth and Boaz. David was born here and was anointed King of Israel here by the prophet Samuel in Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16:4-13). Could there ever be any doubt that this is part of the Land of Israel?
According to THE TIMES OF ISRAEL (timesofIsrael.com) Archeologist Eli Shukron, while digging in Jerusalem this year, recovered a pottery shard that was part of a seal mentioning the city of Bethlehem. As far as is known this is the oldest archeological proof that Bethlehem existed as a city of Israel approximately 2,700 years ago. This was at the time of the First Temple in Jerusalem. And this, of course, also proves, as if any more proof is needed, that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel more than 2,700 years ago. We know from the Bible that it was the capital and that Bethlehem existed as Jewish town even before that.
The very name of the city is Jewish. In Hebrew the name Bethlehem means “House of Bread” because of the wheat fields that surround it.
The Jewish town of Bethlehem is mentioned again in (Micah 5:2) where it is prophesied as the birthplace of the Messiah. 1st Samuel 17:12 calls it Bethlehem-Judah (or Bethlehem of the Tribe of Judah). And the New Testament calls Bethlehem “the city of David” (Luke 2:4).
Joseph and his wife travelled to Bethlehem while she was pregnant because the Roman authorities decreed that every family should travel to the land of the birth of the head of the household. Joseph then, as a descendant of King David, had to travel to Bethlehem, the City of David.
Bethlehem, city of David and part of the tribe of Judah, was the birthplace of the Messiah.
It is not mentioned in the Koran or other Muslim books because they know nothing about it.
CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS IN BETHLEHEM
There are three dates for Christmas in Bethlehem each year. The Roman Catholic and Protestant groups revere Dec. 25th as the day of Nativity. Greek, Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) and Syrian Orthodox celebrate January 6th. Armenian Orthodox Christians celebrate on January 19th. Of course anyone who studies the Bible and History knows that Jesus was not born anywhere near December 25th or any time in January but more likely at the time of the Biblical Feast of Succot (Tabernacles). Certainly the Roman authorities would not have demanded that families travel to far away parts of the country in December or January when it is very cold and often accompanied by snow.
WHAT MUSLIMS BELIEVE ABOUT JESUS
Muslims say they believe in Jesus. Yes they do. They believe he was the last in a line of great prophets and was sent to usher in the final and most important prophet, Mohammed, who would bring the whole world to worship the moon god.
The town of Bethlehem may have been spoiled; God’s Holy Temple may have been destroyed and paved over as a foundation for the Mosque of Omar, but the Spirit and the Dream live on in the hearts of those who love and stand for the God of the Bible and His Messiah.
May the Spirit of Bethlehem live on in our hearts. Not only on December 25th, but all year long.