It’s amazing how Christmas carols bring back memories. As I was reading through O Little Town of Bethlehem,* I was taken back to the mid-1980s. I was a member in the Arabic Baptist Mission in Fort Worth, Texas, while working toward my Masters in Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was in this church that I grew to love Arabs and where I met my future husband.
Since our church was small, several of us were attending the supporting American church to enjoy their Christmas service. We began singing this hymn, and I saw tears well in the eyes of my friend. Thinking maybe she was touched by the moment or missing family, I then realized, “no, she’s crying because Bethlehem is her hometown.” She wasn’t singing about some far away, biblical locale, she was singing about the town where she was born, where she grew up; where she walked the streets.
Later, we would be sharing with another American church about the Middle East and Muslim-Christian relations (this was pre-9/11), and my friend’s brother got up to share. This is what he said.
Hello. I am the son of David. My mother’s name is Mary. I was born in Bethlehem. I am Palestinian. I am a Christian.
I wish I had a camera to capture the looks on those American’s faces as he spoke. Once again, my church, my friends had brought Bethlehem near. They made us realize that because of the coming of Christ, Bethlehem would no longer be just another sleepy Jewish town in a song, but a place where a man could say “I am a Christian from Bethlehem.”
I would never sing that song again without remembering my dear friends from the Haddad family of Bethlehem, and without remembering that in her dark streets, the everlasting light came, that we might know Jesus, our Lord Immanuel.
As you sing this carol, I encourage you to join me in prayer for all the people of Bethlehem to truly know their most famous native son.
*WORDS: Phillips Brooks, 1835-1893. MUSIC: Lewis H. Redner, 1831-1908.