[Sunday, January 10]
It’s Sunday and if you cannot be in your home congregation, can you imagine a better place to be than The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem? That is where the seventeen members of the Canadian Lutheran World Relief’s Global Encounter worshiped today. Although the lectionary for this service called on us to rejoice in the baptism of our Lord, it is still Christmas at Christmas Lutheran. This congregation not only celebrates the traditional Christmas but respects the Orthodox and Armenian Christmases as well so the Christmas tree and decorations will be up for a while yet.
Since the days of the first Pentecost, the Christians of Bethlehem and across Palestine have kept alive the faith of Jesus as heirs of the ‘first Church’. It is the oldest Lutheran church in Palestine and was founded by German missionaries in 1854.
The sanctuary is ringed with fourteen original stained glass windows. The one which carries the most powerful image to this congregation depicts Joseph, Mary and Jesus as refugees as they flee to Egypt. “Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” (Matt 2:13a) These words hit home here because fully 2/3 of the 200 member congregation are refugees themselves.
The organ, originally manufactured in Berlin in 1890, was recently rebuilt with the help of a generous financial gift from the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis. And what a sweet sound of peace and harmony as the Creed, Lord’s Prayer and the hymns were said or sung in Arabic and English simultaneously. And, since it is still Christmas at Christmas Lutheran, the sending hymn was “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” What a way to start the day!