Bethlehem Then and Now

Nativity scene

MICAH members write about the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, then and now

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli Checkpoint and so too the Magi. The Shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. - Rev. Mitri Raheb

Photo: A nativity scene showing Mary and Joseph visited by a Magi but the shepherd is blocked out by a wall.

Nativity and Creche displays: A World apart

Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossman remind us that the nativity stories in their first century context, like Jesus’s parables, are an invitation to see the world in a new way. For early Christians living under Roman domination the nativity stories are told as a choice between the kingdom of Rome and the kingdom of God. A choice that challenges a world of domination and imperial control with a new vision of community and life together as the people of God.

Nothing underscores the ongoing reality of the Christmas stories more than contemporary Bethlehem where Palestinian families are living under Israeli occupation with their day to day lives called into question. The living conditions facing Palestinians is a reminder, as is the case with the nativity stories, of what it means to struggle against a world in which fear and uncertainty mark one’s daily existence. For Bethlehem to truly be a city of peace for all people, it needs to start with a recognition of the people of Palestine who are too often rendered invisible in our celebration of the Christmas season.

Bob Craig

The first nativity scenes were live: real people depicting baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary as well as a few live animals. Later statues were used; and now many homes use small figures in their creche- including the Wise Men and shepherds who would not have been in attendance at Jesus birth.

What else might be different about our beloved nativity set we put up each Christmas? Consider the color of the people represented. Remember that Jesus was a Palestinian Jewish man and would not be the blue eyed blond we frequently see. It is possible to buy historically accurate nativity sets with clothing and coloring to the period making it more real.

Ann Richards

Nativity scenes: an intimate connection

It strikes me that the nativity scene, while not a cozy, comfortable environment, is a type of intimate setting of a familiar time: the birth of a child. It can be a very memorable experience and one we may want to share with those closest to us. Traditional nativities don’t include the grandparents from Seattle or Aunt Krista from Colorado with her camera, as mine would if I made a family creche representing the birth of my sons. The traditional creche display is mainly animals and their keepers (who were just nearby), magi and angels, none of whom seem to be of any special prior relation to Mary and Joseph. My question this season is, who would you include in your family creche? Who are the ones that are close to you, that you want around this time of year? And in the tradition of nativity displays, who could you include that is just nearby?

Jesse Steed

Exciting news from Bethlehem Bible College, home of The Shepherd Society and Family Sponsorships

In January 2023 a group from Bethel University, St Paul MN will travel to Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, Palestine to discuss a partnership between both institutions. The following prayers are requested for this venture. Please pray for:

-Wisdom for the MN group as they plan and travel.
-Health and safety of all who are committed to this trip, for ease of travel, for meetings with Bethlehem Bible College faculty, staff, and students and most of all for God’s vision and purpose to be clear to all and that God’s work will be our focus.

The purpose of the trip is to explore the potential for student and faculty exchanges, for study abroad programs for Bethel students, and especially for opportunities of learning and dialog around issues of peace, justice and reconciliation in an Israel/Palestine context that the US contingent to this trip can engage in, bring home and apply.

Darlene Cox