"Let's go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place." Luke 2:15 painting by Zaki Baboun

“Let’s go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.”
Luke 2:15

painting by Zaki Baboun

I have a postcard in my office of a painting of the nativity scene by a Christian artist who lives in Bethlehem. It is different than any other nativity scene I know. In the distant background is the little town of Bethlehem with the Christmas star shining bright in the sky above. The holy family is intimately gathered beneath the sleepy village in the center of the painting. In the foreground is a large, ugly concrete wall. In the painting, the wall is open like a giant gate, and men, women, and children in modern dress are walking back and forth through the opening. Some seem to notice the family while others seem oblivious. That is one message of the painting. Some people see the Christ child while others do not, even though he is right there in front of them.

The other message in this painting is the meaning of the wall.

"Nations shall come to see your light." Isaiah 60:3 painting by Zaki Baboun

“Nations shall come to see your light.” Isaiah 60:3
painting by Zaki Baboun

It is the separation wall that surrounds Bethlehem today, and it does not open like a gate. It did not exist at the time of Christ’s birth. If the wall had existed then, Mary and Joseph never would have been able to get to Bethlehem after their tiring ninety-mile journey from Nazareth. The shepherds may not have been able to make it to the place of Jesus’ birth, and the wise men most certainly would have been kept out. The separation wall is politically fraught and controversial, with many voices speaking in favor of the protection it offers and many speaking against the restriction of freedom it creates.

Regardless of opinions about the wall, the painting invites Christians to consider its implications. What if it had been there when Jesus was born? We might think about this question from the perspective of the past, but we cannot avoid the contemporary implications of this question. In a time when many voices clamor for the exclusion of people based on their country of origin or their religious identity, Christmas invites us to pause and remember that two millennia ago, God came to earth as a foreigner and stranger, becoming mortal and walking among us. And while our God is bigger than any barrier we can erect, should we be creating them in the first place?

"I'm bringing you good news of great joy for all the people." Luke 2:10  painting by Zaki Baboun

“I’m bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10
painting by Zaki Baboun

This Christmas, as we prepare once again to open our arms to the Christ child, let us remember that he was a stranger in our midst. The world did not welcome him then, just as it does not now. Yet he came anyway, and invites us to welcome all in his name.