The inspiration of Christmas
The Inspiration of Christmas is its Message that Shines Forth from Bethlehem
The inspiration of Christmas is its message. As Bethlehem adorns itself with the colorful decorations that induce joy and optimism, another transformation takes place during this happy season. Hearts, so routinely worried about the daily life in these holy lands, take a breather. They are warmed by the traditional hymns sung in Arabic, native tongue of Palestinian Christians, and in other languages. Choirs from far away join local choirs in singing the Christmas message and in spreading the hope that shines from the manger. Children wear brightful clothes and as they munch on local varieties of the Christmas cake, the Christmas spirit engulfs them with the satisfaction that the world cannot be any better.
On December 24th, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, leaves his patriarchal seat at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem at noon time. The community of Jerusalem dignitaries, women and men, hailing from the different faith groups of the city accompany him as he makes his way to Bethlehem. The feeling of togetherness warms people’s hearts as they congratulate the Patriarch and each other on this joyful occasion. Bells of churches ring aloud as the patriarchal motorcade moves on its way.
Bethlehem is only 12 kilometers from Jerusalem. There is a separation wall that now divides the two cities, traditionally in a twinning relationship for the one has witnessed the birth of our Lord and the second his death and resurrection. As the Patriarch’s entourage approaches the Separation Wall, the gates that are closed year long are opened and the cars pass freely through them. Symbolic and yet suggestive move that reminds all of us that Christmas is the season to let down walls and to work always to challenge all forms of separation.
Once the wall is crossed, hundreds of Bethlehemites receive the Patriarch with cheers and ululations. Ululations are special sounds, only perfected by older women, who make them on occasions of joy and community togetherness. Children hurry to get the blessing of the Patriarch as the boy scouts start playing band music. The motorcade of the Patriarch arrives at Manger Square which is adorned with a big Christmas tree at around two in the afternoon. The fanfare of the reception there sees official personalities headed by the Mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour of the Angels’ Field fame and neighboring Beit Jala of the Roman Catholic Seminary and the many churches adorning it, formally welcoming the Patriarch. The Square is abuzz with pilgrims and locals, priests and nuns, boy and girl scouts and with young men and women waiting to perform with their respective choirs, outside the Church.
Christmas eve, preparations are completed for the Midnight Mass presided over by the Patriarch with the presence of the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, as a gesture of Muslim-Christian coexistence and good neighborliness. The mass is attended by a combination of locals and internationals and is broadcast live worldwide. Christmas day is declared a national holiday for Muslims, Christians and all others to enjoy. The morning of Christmas families visit each other. Usually it is the mother or grandmother that invites all the children, their spouses and entire families to come partake of the Christmas dinner. Families exchange gifts but most importantly they sit together warm with the spirit of Christmas and mindful that the occasion which brings them together did transform the world.
During the Christmas season, we often remind each other in our greetings and exchanges that Christ is the Prince of Peace. This reminder is especially judicious since our land has been a land of conflict for countless generations. Conflict wears the human spirit down and makes one long for stability and peace. Christmas comes knocking at our hearts’ doors every year to remind us that there is no other way but the pursuit of peace and that the essence of life is to experience it in reconciliation, love and forgiveness. This remains the eternal message of Christmas for us in Bethlehem and for the rest of the world.
Dr. Bernard Sabella