Christmas Eve in Bethlehem

As JoLene and I planned this trip, we were eager to include being at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Again this year the Jerusalem Baptist Church, located at 4 Narkis Street, was planning a bus load to go to Bethlehem, and we were pleased that seats were available for us.

The group was international, with people from Japan, India, Holland, Norway and Canada, to name a few.

Bethlehem, as you may know is only two miles south of the edge of Jerusalem. We arrived in Bethlehem at 2:00 PM at the Pilgrim Residence Hotel, a ministry of the Russian Orthodox Church, and had a bit of orientation to the city and then walked several blocks to Manger Square.

The plan was this: everyone from our bus was welcome to sing as an informal choir, standing in one corner of the square. It was more of a sing-along than a formal choir. You could sing for awhile, then wander about if you wished, and then return to sing again. So JoLene and I did just that, warming ourselves in a restaurant with tea, onion soup and shwarma, a delightful food consisting of pita bread filled with hummus, chopped vegetables and meat, either beef or lamb, roasted on an upright spit. We also bought a few olive wood pieces and then rejoined the choir.

The small crowd that gathered around our group included a handful of young Muslim men who were mimicking and mocking us, but we proceeded with smiles, love and silent prayers that the Holy Spirit would touch their hearts with truth.

I expected that the square would would be packed in every square foot with people, but not so. Much of the time the area was only about half full. Someone pointed out that tourist traffic is low this year in both Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Join us by way of a few photos.

The Church of the Nativity, in the southeast corner of the square.

The mosque on the north side of the square.

The most valuable gift for all the world is the name of Jesus Christ.

As I mentioned earlier, when our group sang in the corner of the square, you could come and go, so we were usually rather small in size.

You can see the mixed reactions of the crowd. The fellow in white – from his other actions we gathered he was not rejoicing with us but was poking fun. So I kept giving him the biggest smile I could give.

I had imagined there would be a service of some kind in the square, but that was not quite the case. Indeed, there was a large stage set up with lights and a PA system on the south side of the square. But the “service” consisted of the fact that, beginning at about 5:00 individuals and groups,including ours, were scheduled to sing Christian songs, each group being given a 15-minute segment.

Unfortunately, just before our group was to go on stage a cold wind blew in and a light rain began, so the authorities disconnected the lights and microphones, which of course put us at a huge disadvantage. But we had a lot of zeal, and even though we were amateurs, we sang joyfully with guitar and trumpet and much rhythmic hand-clapping. This was different from the style of previous groups and caught the attention of the people, even without benefit of a PS system, and by the time we were finished the crowd was larger than for any of the previous features. As you might imagine, Pastor Al Nucciarone included in his comments a simple gospel appeal.

The program was to continue with other groups singing until 10:00 PM or so, but because of the rain the rest of the event was canceled, so we were indeed grateful to God for the opportunity we had to sing for his glory in this historic setting.

Next, we walked back to the Pilgrim Residence Hotel for a magnificent buffet dinner, glad to be warm again.

And then the bus ride back to Jerusalem in the rain.

Our experience at Manger Square was not as tidy as a church service, but it was an incredible joy to be there, to be part of this singing, not just to be tourists or pilgrims on our own.

Thanks for joining us, by way of blog, in this celebration of the birth of the Savior of the world.

* * * *

For tomorrow, Christmas Day, our plans for the morning are not clear. But at noon we will have Christmas dinner with the Danneckers and another couple from the Jerusalem Baptist Church. Then in the evening we go to the airport in Tel Aviv for a departure at 12:40 AM Monday, December 26.

Thanks so much for joining us in our travels. And special thanks to all who pray for our ministry. We are richly blessed by your friendship and your partnership with us in world missions.


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great photos – we can almost feel as if we are there!

  2. The cold, the warmth, the food, the heckling, the Christian camaraderie, the joy, the experiences, the celebrations of Jesus, and the memories you’ve made. Thanks for taking us along!

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