The picture above is of the few remaining Christians still in Bethlehem attending mass in the grotto at the Church of the Nativity, which is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. A century ago the population of Bethlehem was 90% Christian; today only a third remain, and they are continuing to flee the city. Today, the city isn't quite so much the little town of silent nights, holy nights and heavenly sleep, but it is a prison with a snaking wall cutting the city off from the West Bank and Jerusalem.
It's just one thought I have on this Christmas Eve, as we enjoy our quite times with our families or apart from our families or with friends or apart from friends, but with the enjoyment of freedom. Whatever Christmas message your clergy delivers (if that's what you do at Christmas), the message in Bethlehem is that the town is a prison, and a town of oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people.
The National Geographic recently had an incredible article that is well worth the read, if you'd like to check it out.
I will decline commenting on the article further, but in light of it I wanted to share some of my favorite songs about the city and about that oft celebrated night (and I am aware of the arguments--which I personally believe, by the way--that Dec. 25th is not his birthday, but I am still going to enjoy these songs today.)
First up is a stunningly beautiful song by Márta Sebestyén from the "Xmas Marks the Spot" compilation put out by RykoDisc in 1997. This is an out of print collection, and is full of great songs you won't find anywhere else. It's not in high demand, so I recommend people pick it up from the amazon.com sellers who are offering it at a really fair price.
Márta Sebestyén-Bethlehem, Bethlehem
Next up is a track that pretty much sums up for me what I am trying to say in this message. It's perhaps THE centerpiece track I was looking for but for a long time was unable to find. I am glad to be able to post this...if any song captures the true spirit of Bethlehem today, it's perhaps this one.
Over the Rhine-Little Town
Finally, I have a beautiful track by SAY that I would like to share. "Silent Night" is an oft covered song, and not too many versions are memorable to me, but this is one of the few that I really enjoy.