Two special broadcasts from Bethlehem were among SAT-7’s packed and diverse schedule of Christmas programmes this year between the Western Christmas (25 December) and the Eastern one (7 January).
Amid worship and concerts in a multitude of styles from many locations and denominations, a simple half hour show from Bethlehem both reminded viewers of the humble birth of a Saviour and gave words of hope to viewers living in difficult circumstances across the region.
Dr Jack Sara, President of Bethlehem Bible College, hosted the show with guests Fr Issa Thaljieh, priest of the Roman Orthodox Nativity Church in Bethlehem and Revd Dr Munther Isaac, Pastor of Immanuel Evangelical Church in Bethlehem.
Privileged “ambassadors of peace”
Asked how Bethlehem churches celebrate Christ’s birth, both guests stressed the sense of privilege they have at living in the cradle of Christianity and of being stewards of God’s love for the world.
“Jesus needs to be born in our hearts first,” said Fr Thalijeh, “This is the greatest joy because He came to save us and give us life and salvation through the cross…We as Palestinians and people living Bethlehem are immensely proud of this joy, grace and glory that God gave us so that from here – Bethlehem – the message of love and peace emerges. We can be ambassadors of love and peace to prevail in this nation and in the whole world.”
Dr Isaac agreed: “It is a special place. We celebrate for a whole month and everywhere there are decorations. This gives the people a breath of joy and celebratory spirit in the midst of unfavourable economic and political conditions.
“In the end,” he said, “there is one Jesus and He was born in Bethlehem. It is an honour we don’t deserve that Jesus was born here over 2000 years ago. It is a miracle that we still send out the message of hope and faith to the world from here.”
Message for hard times
Wherever one looks, that hope is still desperately needed. Fr Thalijeh read Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”.
Dr Isaac responded: “Every day we hear of a new incident. Evil, hatred and killing are rife. Humanity is suffering from hatred.
“When we contemplate the word Emmanuel (God with us), it is a special thing that God came in the flesh and was born among us, but we fail to remember the difficult circumstances He was born in. The Holy family had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and later became refugees in Egypt. There was a massacre of children in Bethlehem and the Roman invasion in Palestine witnessed many revolutions during and after the time of Christ. And today there are many atrocities in our world still going on.
“In the middle of all these circumstances, Jesus was born into the world. His arrival wasn’t widely announced but was humble and simple in a manger. He wants to tell us that in the middle of our circumstances and difficulties, He is here. Christ even died as a victim of violence and fanaticism.”
Dr Isaac told viewers that Bethlehem churches pray for Syrian and Iraqi refugees – as well as others who are suffering challenges and persecution – every Sunday. He added,
“God is with us in the middle of all of it. Emmanuel came in the flesh and became one of us to experience the life we live in. He is near to us. He isn’t distant or far from our reality.”
A different privilege
Fr Thalijeh stressed that all Christians have another privilege – as bearers of the cross: “We as Christians living in the Arab countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Syria and others must carry the cross. The cross must be our sign of victory so we can handle the difficulties we face patiently and with love because we know that there is a better place than this world.
“The birth of Christ gives us the joy we need. From Bethlehem to the whole world, the message of Christ is for all and it is a message of peace so that the dark days will end soon.”
“God can tip the scales,” Dr Isaac encouraged. “We see that in the Virgin Mary’s prayer in the gospel of Luke (Luke 1:46-55). This links to the current situation in the Middle East. This reminds us that when Jesus took sides, he chose the side of the poor, the needy and the refugees. He was a child refugee looking for a home. He was even persecuted and children paid the price of this persecution. This is a reminder for us that His mercy is from generation to generation.”