I was in Bethlehem a couple of years ago just after Christmas. Although it’s the city of our Lord’s birth, Bethlehem is a tense place, situated as it is in the West Bank, so close to Jerusalem, in the midst of seemingly unresolvable religious and political conflict. Two students and I were walking to the Church of the Nativity and a Palestinian police officer had some fun at our expense. It was nothing serious, just annoying, and we went on our way. As it turned out, the church was temporarily closed for the evening. We were pretty disappointed, as our time in Bethlehem was limited. As we stood outside the church milling around, another police officer began calling to us. He and yet another office were at the bottom of a long stone staircase leading down to the street. They were both holding automatic weapons and he was motioning to us to come down. I have to say I was getting pretty nervous. So, we got down to the bottom of the steps, not really knowing what to expect, but still having a bad taste in our mouth from our last encounter with local law enforcement. What did this police officer want? He wanted to share with us a small fire that he had built beside the sidewalk. It was really cold outside, we couldn’t get into the church, and we were just standing there. So he invited us down for some conversation and warmth.
I don’t know if they were Christians or Muslims, but that night, outside the Church of the Nativity, two Palestinian police officers, in spite of the fact that they were holding automatic rifles, managed to embody the hospitality, kindness, and gentleness that followers of Christ should emulate. I don’t know anything else about them except for the few basic facts we were able to exchange across our language barrier, but that night it was Christmas.