Charlie Brown’s Christmas
Once again this Christmas Season I watched the Charlie Brown’s Christmas. It is an oldie from 1965. Watching it again takes me back not only to my childhood days when we watched the show on an old tube TV with a rabbit ear antenna drawing in the signal (my oh my, have days changed!). But this classic Charles M. Schulz cartoon also takes me back to Israel, specifically to the fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem. This is where the story of all stories took place 2,000 years ago! And shepherds were a big part of the story!
There are many shepherds who live in and around Bethlehem. Located about five miles south of Jerusalem in the Hill Country of Judah, Bethlehem is an historic place. Mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), this was the ancient town connected with people from the Bible (e.g. Rachel, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, as well as with David). In the words of the prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times (Micah 5:2).” This ancient 8th century prophet continues (in 5:4) by mentioning the role of the shepherd. In fact, the one to be born in Bethlehem (Jesus) would be one who would “stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”
Today, Bethlehem is inhabited by about 20,000 Arabs (not counting to two neighboring towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala). Of this population, only about 10-15% are Arab Christians. At the center of the city of Bethlehem is the Church of Nativity and Manger Square. Originally built by the order of Constantine’s mother Helena in the 4th century and later rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in the 530s, the church represents of the centerpieces of the Christian faith, namely, the location of the birth of Jesus!
A Shepherd named Mansour
About a year ago I came across this video about one particular Bethlehem shepherd named Mansour. With the help of the wonderful Arab Christian community in Bethlehem (e.g. Bethlehem Bible College, Rev. Danny Awad, and others), this video was produced to bridge the ancient with the present.
In the birth narrative, it were shepherds who were the first to greet the newborn Jesus. Going no doubt to a nearby cave where Jesus as born, these shepherds saw with their own eyes the fulfillment of what Micah the prophet of old mentioned 750 years prior.
In the video you will see modern day Bethlehem. Despite being surrounded with many religious and even political challenges that face them, the Bethlehem Christians you will see and hear in the video still speak of the hope and peace that Christ brings them. Especially powerful are the words spoken by one Arab Christian who says, “I think Jesus is knocking on the doors of the hearts of people. And he ask for anyone open to him to start a new Christmas with him…”
In the words of Mansour the Bethlehem shepherd, “Isa (Jesus) is the Prince of Peace!” This is the message of Christmas!
Is Jesus knocking on the door of your heart this Christmas Season? If so, be sure to let Him in and discover the true joy of Christmas!