About 9 km south of Jerusalem lies the city where Christian history says Jesus Christ was born: Bethlehem.
It was here on Christmas Day where Mary gave birth inside a cave that was typically used for animals. Shepherds came from all around in order to worship the baby, and Three Wise Men came from the east to the city to visit, to pay homage, and to present their gifts to Jesus Christ.
The city also acted as the birthplace of David, Israel’s second king. David was born about 1,000 years prior to Jesus’s arrival. It was here where David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel after he was brought in from attending to his father’s sheep.
Bethlehem means “House of bread” and sits on top of a hill near the edge of the Judean Desert. Bedouin, pilgrims and tourists all interact among an eclectic mix of cultures within the town market and its narrow streets.
Today, visitors can go to the cave and see the site where Christian history tells us Jesus Christ was born.
There are not many Gospel references to the birth of Jesus, but the event is mentioned briefly in Luke 2:4, 7.
“And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to David’s town of Bethlehem — because he was of the house and lineage of David — to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child . . . . She gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged.”
Bethlehem is also mentioned in
- Micah 5:2-5, where the birth of the Messiah was first prophesied;
- Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-20, where the birth of Jesus was written;
- Matthew 2:1-12, when the Wise Men visited the baby Jesus and presented to him their gifts;
- Matthew 2:16-18, which referenced the Massacre of the Holy Innocents.
In the 20th century, control of the city travelled between Turkey, Britain, Jordan and Israel. Because of these hostilities, thousands of displaced Palestinians were forced to live in refugee camps located nearby. In 1995, the Palestinian Authority took control of the city.
It’s is largely made of Muslims now, several denominations of Christians remain, including: Latin, Syrian, Armenian, Malachite and Maronite Catholics; Greek, Armenian and Syrian Orthodox; and several Protestants.
In the Christmas spirit, Franciscan friars celebrate the Eucharist in the Grotto of the Manger on a daily basis. At noon, they perform a procession around all the local holy places.
The residents of the city today depend largely on tourists and pilgrims for their livelihood. They are known for olive wood carvings, distinctive embroidery, and mother-of-pearl jewelry, a craft the Franciscans introduced.
Della Shenton, a pilgrim from the area, said of the people of Bethlehem “Bethlehemites are cheerful, peaceful, gentle people, who have welcomed pilgrims for centuries: They now stand waiting for visitors. Jesus Christ was born here, their expressions appear to say; so where are all the Christians?”
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