Bethlehem is decorated and ready for Christmas. Tourists are coming every day to see the birthplace of Jesus. Children are out of school for the holidays and are enjoying window shopping and Christmas candy. Christmas carols are played from shops and can be heard all evening long as you drive through town. Santa, or Baba Noel (Father Christmas), is all around, passing out candy and trinkets to children. Families are together as people have time off of work, school, and university. It is a very happy season, as people are enjoying themselves and seem to forget for a moment about the hardships of their lives.
This has been an especially busy holiday season in Bethlehem this year because the Muslim feast of Eid il Adha and Christmas fall at almost exactly the same time of year. Eid il Adha is a feast of sacrifice, where Muslim families sacrifice a goat to ask forgiveness for their sins. Each family also must provide a goat to a poorer family, as an example of sacrificial giving. The feast comes at the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that is used as a way to win favor with Allah. Wednesday was the first day of the feast and it ends on Saturday.
It is very interesting to see how this year everyone in Bethlehem is celebrating the forgiveness of their sins. The Christian families are using this time to remember the birth of Jesus and how his coming to earth provided us with a way to be saved. The Muslim families are using this time to celebrate the forgiveness of their sins through the sacrifice that they performed. However, this forgiveness is temporary, as it must be granted year after year. What an opportunity we as followers of Jesus have been given to use this season to share the unconditional love and forgiveness that God offers each of us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Please pray for the people of Bethlehem this Christmas.
Pray for the tourists who come and see the lives of the Palestinians. Pray that they will see that there is a Church here that needs to be loved and encouraged. Pray that they will see that there are Muslims who need to know the love of Jesus.
Pray for the Christians who live here. Pray that they will be encouraged during this season. Pray that they will be lights to their Muslim neighbors.
Pray for the Muslims who live here. Pray that they will know the love of Jesus and that they will turn to him for forgiveness and unconditional acceptance. Pray that seeds of hope will be planted in their hearts as they see and participate in the Christmas celebrations.Pray for all who live in this land. Pray that the peace that Jesus brought with his birth will be known in the hearts of all who come to Bethlehem this Christmas.