O Little Town of Bethlehem

O Little Town of Bethlehem

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’ Luke 2: 8-10

At this time of year, Northeast Ohio malls are festive with Christmas trees draped with sparkling lights and children lined up to chat with Santa. In the midst of all this celebration, some people’s thoughts turn to the little town of Bethlehem, where Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn and slept in a stable. Carols play over PA systems, singing out Christmas traditions: Joy and comfort to you, O Little Town of Bethlehem; all is calm, O Holy Night.

Where exactly is Bethlehem? The Holy Land?

Bethlehem is five miles south of Jerusalem. I have had the great fortune to visit several times and have always been received with warmth and tremendous hospitality by Palestinian hosts.

But those who live there, encircled by the Israeli-built separation wall, cannot spontaneously visit family or friends in Jerusalem without the correct Israeli-issued travel document. Nor can they worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or at Al-Aqsa Mosque, major religious sites in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, without hard-to-obtain travel permits.

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*Bach, a professor, holds the Archbishop Hallinan Chair in Religious Studies and directs the Hallinan Project for Peace and Social Justice at Case Western Reserve University.