Mary and Joseph probably traveled about a week to reach Bethlehem in time for the census. Mary, in her ninth month of pregnancy, would have needed to rest often while making the ninety-mile journey. Today, a war is raging about forty-five miles from the small city of Bethlehem.
It seems that this year, once again, Bethlehem will be known as having no rooms in their city for the pilgrims to stay.
How Bethlehem is different today
When Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, it would have been a city that existed largely because of the shepherds. Located six miles from Jerusalem, it was a favorite stop for the Jewish pilgrims on their way to the temple. I found an interesting article that said even today, “The economy of Bethlehem is based on pilgrimages and tourism,” but “90% of the workforce is not receiving salaries” during these tense days of war.
I’ve been to Bethlehem several times. We took tour groups to the city to see the church believed to have been built over the cave system that likely would have been used to “stable” the animals, therefore the likely birthplace of Jesus.
The streets of the city are lined with stores selling all kinds of souvenirs and products from the Holy Land. We always took our group to a favorite store that sold hand-carved nativity sets and other products made out of native olive wood. My husband, Jim, is good friends with the man whose family owns that store as well as a hotel and restaurant in the city.
Normally at this time of the year, the streets of Bethlehem and the stores are extremely crowded with pilgrims from all around the world. This Christmas, the hotels are housing people who have fled from the war zone and their homes. This year the stores are closed and sit quietly abandoned.
The city is under Palestinian control, although some of the residents are Israeli. The entrance to the city has always been gated and guarded by Palestinian soldiers who were armed and ready for an attack. The attack occurred about fifty miles outside of Bethlehem and was organized by a faction of their own people.
Bethlehem had just begun to recover from the shutdown of Christmas 2020, and it cannot be known how long this current war will continue. We can’t know what Bethlehem will look like next Christmas.
A baby named Hope
The article talked about a hospital located about 1,500 steps from the church which exists to mark the birthplace of Christ, describing it as “the premier maternity hospital and neonatal critical care center in the Bethlehem region of the West Bank.”
When war broke out, the roads were blockaded, making it difficult for the hospital to receive necessary supplies. A woman named Nadeem was in her ninth month, expecting her third child. She noticed she had not felt the baby move for a while, but she had been afraid to mention it because she didn’t want a large hospital bill during these difficult times. She finally mentioned her concerns to her husband, and he took her to the hospital.
Nadeem was quickly admitted in order to receive an emergency C-section. When her daughter was delivered, she was gray and unresponsive. The team of doctors continued to work on her until suddenly a small cry filled the room. The baby was placed in the NICU, and Nadeem couldn’t stop thanking the staff. They had gathered to pray for her baby, and Nadeem credited her daughter’s life to their prayers.
The baby girl was named Amal, which means “hope” in Arabic. One of the doctors who delivered Amal said, “The birth of her baby brought her hope in this time of terrible war and the loss of so many lives. There is a new baby in Bethlehem and it gives her hope that this will pass.”
The hope of Bethlehem
Bethlehem is a small picture of the conflict that seems to exist across the entire world today. The citizens are very different people who, by necessity, need to learn to coexist peacefully with one another. It is a picture of why Jesus chose to step out of heaven to be born in a Bethlehem stable.
Paul was writing his letter of theology to Rome. He quoted the prophet Isaiah who had prophesied seven hundred years before the first coming of Christ. Paul reminded the church in Rome and reminds us today of the reason Jesus was born. Romans 15:12 says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
I wonder, as Nadeem was listening for the cry of her baby and listening to the prayers being lifted to God by the hospital staff around her, if she knew the One who is our hope, the babe of Bethlehem. I wonder if she named her baby Amal because she understood the great need of her people is the hope Jesus was born to give all people.
Pray for the people of the Holy Land to find their hope
Jesus came to save the people who are fighting on both sides of this war. Paul said the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16–17).
We need to pray for the people of Bethlehem to seek God’s righteousness. We need to pray for all the lost. God gave his Son so that all could be saved. The hope of the world is Jesus. It always has been and that won’t change until the next time Jesus comes. That day our hope in heaven will be fulfilled in Christ.
Paul wrote a prayer of blessing to the church in Rome that would be his prayer for the world today: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
As we pray for our Christmas season, let’s pray for a small baby in Bethlehem named Amal and all that surrounds her tiny, fragile life. How would the God of hope want us to pray for everyone involved in this war?
God is able to redeem the worst of times for his purpose, for his glory. Our world needs to know the Savior. As Christians, we are called to share the gospel, the good news of Christ.
To whom will you offer the hope of Christmas this week?
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
P.S. If you want to know more about all that is happening in Israel, I encourage you to download my husband’s recent ebook for free, The War In Israel: What You Need to Know about This Crisis of Global Significance.