Those of you who have seen the Narnia movies (or – anachronistically –read the books by C.S. Lewis) will remember that in the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because of the evil “White Witch”, in Narnia it was “always winter but never Christmas.” Bethlehem is sort of the opposite. It’s never winter, not in the white way people from Iowa and Maine think of winter. But here it is always, always Christmas, one way or another.
Well, OK. It’s Christmas every day, and even moreso in December and January, when three different branches of the Christian family celebrate Christmas on three different dates.
But yesterday I wandered into St Catherine’s, which is attached to the Church of the Nativity, and was able to join in a Christmas Celebration in English. It began with “Joy to the World” and the readings were for Christmas day. We sang Silent Night as we walked to Communion. It was a very pleasant surprise, considering it’s October.
From my room at the Casa Nova guest house, I hear the church bells ring with great abandon several times a day. I also hear the call to prayer 5 times a day from the Mosque of Omar in Manger Square. Altogether, there is a feeling of easy peace between the Christians and the Moslems here. The feeling pervades even the merchant sector. As one restaurant owner explained, he doesn’t take credit cards because if the people don’t have cash he just tells them to send him the money later. They always do. The diners are eating between the Mosque and the Nativity Church. God is watching. If they are going to rip someone off, he says, it won’t be here.
On the other hand, there is the real world. Just up the road there is the Wall surrounding the city, where desperate men jockey for a good place in line, to get through the checkpoint at 3 in the morning to find work. Shopkeepers tell me that they own olive trees they can’t harvest because their land has been taken for Har Homa Settlement. Or they can’t use their land because it was taken for Rachel’s Tomb. Or that they would emigrate if only they could, to be free. All the issues remain.
But for today I choose to remember that here, somewhere in this little town, 2000 years ago, a baby was born who later would say, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Such words will carry us through all the days of winter.