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December 16, 2008

The Real Bethlehem

Wallofshame Continuing Anne's theme of debunking myths surrounding the birth of Christ, I thought I'd share a devotional thought from my friend Kevin Morrow who spent a month last year in Bethlehem:

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

Episcopal priest Phillip[s] Brooks penned these immortal lines in 1868, three years after visiting the birthplace of our beloved Savior. If only the Bethlehem of today bore resemblance to the peaceful, stained-glass dream in Brooks' memorable lullaby! Unfortunately, it does not.

Concrete barricades; barbed wire; checkpoints; armored bulldozers; rows of blindfolded, handcuffed Palestinian men squatting in line under armed guard; shuttered, bullet-pocked storefronts; heaps of rubble: such was daily reality in Bethlehem during my one-month sojourn there in 2004.

The local economy had tanked badly, made worse still by travel restrictions recently imposed on the locals. Many Bethlehemites, now prisoners in their own town, lamented to me their frustrated hopes, shattered dreams and lives put on hold. The mood of Bethlehem was bored, restless, angry, desperate.   

Added to this were the perennial catfights between Muslim and Christians, traditionalist, Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians against evangelicals, and ordinary citizens versus the corrupt Palestinian Authority government. Rumors (some true) circulated of even fistfights, low-intensity gang warfare inside the Church of the Nativity(!) among the clergy of the rival church traditions responsible for its care. The infraction: cleaning floor sections not assigned to them!


Violence…conflict…oppression…poverty…despair…You'd think the Light of the World had never dawned in Bethlehem at all.

But is it not fitting, though, that Jesus chose such a seething cesspool for His port of entry into this world? God is the God of the real world, not of our sanitized, stained-glass fantasies…right? He is not merely the greatest philosopher in the universe. We dare to believe that He can and He will change, reclaim, transform even the most stubbornly unredeemable.

This is exactly why Jesus, our God-with-us, ultimately came: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death, and there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the old things have passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4).

"You are out of your mind!" cried Festus, the Roman governor of Caesarea against the gospel Paul preached in his hearing. "Idealists! Empty-headed dreamers!" you may hear others cry. We are happy to be guilty as charged. 

Are you? Do you really believe this? Do you dare to believe this?

Perhaps in recent days, you've become weary. Or maybe disappointed, disillusioned. The evil and imperfection around doesn't seem to change. It seems like it just stays the same, or gets worse. 

Have no fear. There's a perfect world coming, and Jesus, whose birthday we will soon celebrate, is the key. Take some time out. Let your heart ponder these things during this Christmas season of renewal and hope.

(Image © Kevin Morrow)

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And for those who like word derivations, did you know that "bedlam" was originally a Cockney pronunciation of "Bethlehem"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital

And atheists call *us* crazy for trying to help the mentally ill instead of just letting survival of the fittest dominate. The spirit of pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge lives on.

More to the point, can you imagine what Bethlehem must have been like when Mary and Joseph arrived? Zealots snarling at Romans for the inconvenience and expense, to be followed by more taxes! Houses jammed full of guests! Women going into labor! I think "bedlam" probably comes closer than "silent night".

But thank God that Jesus was willing to come into our mess of a world and show us how to straighten it.

Joe Dalfonzo

Thanx for the beautiful reminder. He is truly The everlasting Light!


Could really do without the spoil-sport deconstructing of Christmas when these things have already been investigated and the debunkers don't have a leg to stand on.

Gina Dalfonzo

As we're all Christians here on the blogging team, labrialumn, I really don't think anyone's trying to be a spoilsport. We're just interested in finding out more about what might really have happened when Christ was born.


So I looked it up, and to my surprise the Minnesota state bird is *not* the grouse. (I'll stop right there.)

As far as I'm concerned, most discoveries about Christmas make it more interesting - and the accurate ones make it all the more poignant.

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