In a few weeks we will remember that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In a few weeks we will remember that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

If Mary and Joseph were carrying the pre-born Jesus to Bethlehem today, they would find that there would be plenty of room in the inn, but they wouldn’t be able to get into Bethlehem, because it would be under military closure and curfew. And if, by good luck and sheer determination, they were able to skirt around the military checkpoints and roadblocks by climbing over hills and through fields, they would find the inn closed – not full, but closed for lack of visitors.

Christmas Eve will be a silent night, but not a holy night. All is not calm; all is not bright in the not-so-little town of Bethlehem. It hasn’t been for a couple years. The city of the birth of the Prince of Peace is abandoned and tense. War and violence hover over the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field like the heavenly host of angels once did.

The Christian Palestinians in Bethlehem, and in the surrounding villages of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour, might be allowed out of their homes for a couple hours to walk to church on Christmas, en sha’allah (God willing), but they most certainly will not be joined by any Christians who live outside the immediate Bethlehem area. The few Christians who still live in Palestine (or the West Bank or the occupied territories or Samaria and Judea, depending on your political persuasion and who drew the map that you are using) are separated and isolated, divided by Israeli settlements and by-pass roads, and thus are kept from moving about freely. An image that helps me understand this is that of a piece of “swiss cheese.” Bethlehem, Taybeh, Bir Zeit and the other towns and villages in which there are Christians, are like the holes in the swiss cheese that are kept from connecting with one another. Even the Christians who live in Jerusalem, just a few miles from Bethlehem, will not get to Bethlehem for Christmas, as the Christians who live in Bethlehem were not able to get to Jerusalem for Easter.

May the Prince of Peace, himself born in the town when it was under military occupation, be born anew in Bethlehem at Christmas, so that his presence – along with our concern for the believers and our efforts on their behalf – will bring peace through justice in the land where Jesus first cried, where the angels first sang, where the shepherds were first struck with great fear, and where Christians first believed.

May there be good news of great joy for all people, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests!

(Father Rob Waller is pastor at St. Andrew, Milford. He can be reached at On his  parish’s website,, find his most recent Holy Land journal and slide show. To sponsor a Christian child of the Holy Land, visit The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation website,