Bethlehem, Land of Miracles
The history of the small city of Bethlehem is extraordinary. From Biblical times and from among its citizens it has great historical, political, and religious importance. The famous King David, for example, is a good representative of that tradition of leaders. It was in Bethlehem that he developed his musical, pastoral, and leadership abilities that with time gained him fame.
Joseph the carpenter, who married Mary of Nazareth, also came from Bethlehem of Judea. In that city he was taught the office that he would later exert in Galilee. And like a responsible citizen, he was on his way to the home of his parents to fulfill the census orders, when the time came for Mary to give birth. Because of that particular historical detail, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, close to Jerusalem, and not in the Palestinian north, in Nazareth, where he preached and taught, and he lived most of his life. Christian evangelists interpreted these events as the fulfillment of old prophecies regarding the Messiah.
With time, and to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, Bethlehem became an important center for Christian pilgrimages. Believers of diverse traditions and confessions arrive at Bethlehem to revive and remember the history that the city represents, to review and enjoy the messages that the place affirms, to visit and contemplate their magnificent temples, and to affirm and celebrate the hope that is presented with the message of the birth of Jesus, the Son of the Living God, in that very small but historical city.
At the present time, however, Bethlehem, important symbol of the Christian faith, is intensely hurt by the complex policies and the conflicts in the Middle East, specifically by the complications, problems, wars, and misunderstandings between Palestine and Israel. The paradisiacal small village of the old spiritual songs and hymns is seriously affected by an extraordinary wall that separates it from Jerusalem, its twin sister in culture and history, and that prevents the suitable transportation and the effective communication of its citizens with its relatives and friends in the rest of Palestine. The fields and valleys that for centuries were perennial and silent witnesses of the continuous movement of the flocks of sheep are now desert, without the pleasing and significant presence of the personages that gave luster to the city, the shepherds of Bethlehem.
The present city of Bethlehem, in addition, is surrounded by several Jewish colonies, saturated by military points for checking and personal revision, and full of physical obstacles that make difficult the sober daily life to which their citizens were used to through history. Bethlehem, cradle of Christianity and symbol of peace and hope for humanity, is captive in a complex series of peace negotiations and daily conflicts that do not promote the social, economic, political, mental and spiritual health of its citizens. In the place where, in agreement with Christian theology, the Savior of the world was born, the everyday life of its citizens is seriously and adversely affected.
One of the adverse consequences of this crisis, which certainly has serious economic implications, is the emigration of Christian families from the city. Since the year 2000, it is estimated that more than 400 Christian families have moved from Bethlehem to look for better peace environs for their children, and to enjoy the security and prosperity that they cannot have in their homes. And with the departure of these families, the Christian population in the city diminishes considerably and the Christian presence in those holy places, which is as meaningful for the churches as for the believers, is adversely affected.
In dialogue with a Palestine young woman from Bethlehem University, we asked her if she thought that the present peace dialogues and negotiations will offer some positive fruit for their citizens. To which she responded with security and hope: “You should not forget that in this place the Prince of Peace was born… This is a land of miracles!”
Dr. Samuel Pagán
Samuel and Nohemi Pagan serve with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the International Center of Bethlehem (of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem). They serve as co-coordinators for Leadership Development and Outreach.