A REAL BETHLEHEM CHRISTMAS
Celebrating in the town of Jesus' birth
David Parsons| ICEJ|2013
The Christmas season means so much to the native Christians of Bethlehem, as they are immensely proud to live in the city where Jesus was born. Amid all the busy holiday activities, the largest Christmas banquet in Bethlehem each year is hosted by the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, pastored by Dr. Naim Khoury and his son, Rev. Steven Khoury. Together, they shared with us what Christmas is really like in the town of Christ's birth.
Dr. Khoury was born into a Greek Orthodox family in the Old City of Jerusalem. But after being called into ministry as a Baptist pastor, he moved to Bethlehem over 30 years ago to start an Evangelical congregation.
"I felt called of God to go set up a 'lighthouse' in Bethlehem", said Dr. Khoury. "There was no room for the Lord two thousand years ago, but I went to help people find room for him in their hearts."
The "lighthouse" he established, the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, under Holy Land Missions, today has over 400 members - making it the largest Evangelical congregation in the West Bank. Dr. Khoury feels privileged to minister among the people of this historic town.
"It's an honour to serve the Lord in Bethlehem and to let the people of this special city know who is the real Saviour of the world", he said.
"Christmas is a very important family time in Bethlehem", Dr. Khoury noted. "We have big meals together. The children receive presents and clothes, of course. We also distribute gifts to hundreds of needy children all across town."
The highlight of the season for his church is their annual Christmas banquet, co-sponsored by the ICEJ, and many local Muslims are also invited to take part.
"We try to make Christmas come alive. To touch the hearts of the people, that is our aim", assured Dr. Khoury. "The best gift someone can have is to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour."
His son Steven explained that - unlike the ‘commercial creep’ in most Western societies - Christmas observances in Bethlehem only begin in earnest around the first of December.
"In early December, the municipality of Bethlehem starts decorating the streets with lights and signs, and this is the cue for all the stores to begin decorating", Steven said. "Around the 20th of the month, the big Christmas parties start. And the activity builds to a crescendo on December 24th when all the local churches show up on Manger Square to let the world know we are here."
The traditional parade by all the local congregations past the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve has grown into a massive community gathering.
"The young men in each church march in fancy scout uniforms and play bagpipes and drums", Steven said. "But in recent years, our church has decided to focus on Jesus Christ. Rather than get caught up in the commercialism, we are carrying banners with Bible verses and Christian slogans that let people know our only hope is in Jesus."