Bethlehem does not resemble the Christmas cards. We pass through a security checkpoint before we are allowed to enter this Palestinian authority area. As we walk down the street, a combination of shabby and gaudy greets us. Merchants hawk carved nativities and rosary beads as we walk by. We are told that Christians — and there are several ancient strains of Christianity resident in this town, are a minority, prone to persecution. At the same time, the tourist income brought in by Christians is a major economic factor in this Palestinian Arab enclave.
The Shepherd’s fields, close to town, are dotted with shrubs, trees and rocks. The area is still used mostly for grazing animals and later in the day we see Bedouin shepherds with their flocks, much as they would have looked 2000 years ago. At the Shepherd’s fields We sit on benches and listen to a reading of the Nativity story. We try to imagine angels from heaven entering this humble landscape.
Up the hill is a cupola-topped chapel.
An angel, with wings unfurled hovers over the doorway. Inside, as we look around at mosaic depictions of the nativity, a large group of South Asian tourists enter the space. Women dressed in colourful skirts and scarves perform rituals of devotion at each alcove. Initially I am astonished. It is not that I have never seen people from that part of the world before. In fact, my home city has one of the largest populations of South Asians anywhere in North America. But apparently my Caucasian-Evangelical-centred bias has caught me off guard. Of course, there are South Asian believers, plenty of them, who would want to visit Bethlehem and geographically, India is much closer to Bethlehem than Canada is. We are the ones who have come the longest way.
The leader of the group, an older man with pure white hair, stops below the cupola and sings. We don’t understand the words, but his voice and the eastern melody he intones is haunting and beautiful. I am touched by their presence here and by their worship.
2000 years ago, God sent angels to a group of shepherds, one of the lowliest professions of the time, here to this rocky outpost in a politically and ethnically charged atmosphere to announce good news. When I think about it, that must have been really astonishing to those present. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
I am reminded today that this news was for ALL the people. It is fitting that all of us, worship our Saviour, wherever we come from.