In 2001, The Bethlehem Hotel featured 210 rooms available for those who sojourned to the birthplace of Jesus on Christmas Eve. There were just two rooms occupied on that night.
In 2006, Bethlehem authorities told reporters they would put up Christmas decorations only when visitors returned.
Perhaps this downturn in visitation has to do with the 9/11 and other threats of terrorism. I had a friend from South Africa that spent Christmas in Bethlehem and spoke of lovelier times and friendlier faces.
Margaret told me of spending five months in Bethlehem and how much she enjoyed the people and learning a bit of the culture that once made the town uninviting to a pregnant woman, her husband and the child within.
That event hold little importance to those who live in Israel today simply because they do not believe Jesus is the Messiah. They believe he was a prophet and a good man, but certainly not God’s Son.
However, commerce is commerce and if Christians wish to celebrate the birth of this child then it makes sense for the people of Israel to accommodate the celebrations whenever possible. In times past, both Jew and Arab neighbors commemorated Christmas with their own bit of commercialized cheer.
With the tourists staying home in recent years the red carpet has been rolled up and the merchants are lamenting the passing of ‘better times’.
Some would argue the importance of the location of Jesus’ birth and some would argue that it matters very little where he was born. Some argue about the time frame of the celebration and others that the celebration is not needed since it was a Passover in Jerusalem that ushered in salvation to mankind.
Perhaps we remember Christmas if only because a story of Jesus has a beginning as well as an end. We identify with the story because we have either had children or been one. We identify with being inconvenienced and oppressed. We identify with the story because for the first time we begin to see that God sought to identify with common everyday people – the kind of people waiting for tourists to come back to Bethlehem – the kind of people that struggle with the pursuit of peace and a history of war – people like you and me.
Yet, in the 21st century we follow a pattern set for us by our forbears and enhanced in our own way as we struggle to pay for Christmas. This line of thinking has been fine-tuned to coincide with the jingle of Christmas commerce ringing throughout the world.
Did you know…
70% do not save for the Christmas period.
87% decide at the point of purchase what they will buy.
30% use their credit card as their main means of buying Christmas goodies.
Christmas blues often arrive in the January or February credit card bills.
We are all guilty of making Christmas what it was never intended to be. Certainly we have a lovely set of culturally beloved Christmas traditions and we enjoy the warmth of family gatherings and the time off from our jobs, but this year in Bethlehem the same motivation that promoted an inn keeper to sell a young couple lodging in a barn is the same motivation that tells the world Christmas is not relevant if the people won’t come.
If Jesus were to come for the first time this Christmas he would find that economics are still the driving force behind the holiday that bears his name.
The good news is commercialism didn’t stop him from coming and it doesn’t need to stop us from discovering him anew this Christmas.