“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.”
In recent years, in addition to trees, lights, candles, and angels, Christmas villages have become a trendy feature in Christmas décor. In our home we have a few Christmas village scenes featured in our holiday display. These Dickenesque houses are lighted models of wintry landscape and architecture.
However, the original Christmas village, the one in the biblical Christmas story, was nothing like our English village scenes. The original Christmas village was rustic and somewhat rural. The original Christmas village was Bethlehem of Judea.
Interestingly, a headline in The Washington Post this morning reads, “Little Palestinian town of Bethlehem wants its tourists, Christian residents to come back.” Although the security barrier and a stagnant economy, including an unemployment rate of 23%, are significant challenges for local residents and tourists, the tourism industry is making a comeback this year, as 1.6 million people from around the world came to visit the village where Jesus was born.
Bethlehem is located on the West Bank, approximately 5.5 miles from Jerusalem. The historical significance of this small town is rich in story and legend. It is near the place where Jacob buried Rachel, it was the home of Naomi and Ruth, it was the site where Samuel anointed David, and it later became known, prophetically, as the city of David.
Bethlehem literally means “house of bread.” Bethlehem probably derived its name because it is located in one of the most fertile areas of Palestine. The area abounded in wheat and barley and rye, the ingredients of bread, the stuff of life. Biblically speaking, bread is a staple of life that poetically represents nurture, health, and provision. It is no wonder that Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, was called the “Bread of Life.”
In this small but strategic village, “Christ, the Savior” was born. As you celebrate the birth of the one who taught us to break bread and share bread, may your festivities be characterized by a growing faith, good health, and a generous sharing of your abundance with those who are lacking.
“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
(Barry Howard serves as Senior Minister at the First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida.)