It is Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in 2012. Tonight on Manger Road, in Manger Square and on all its thoroughfares, Bethlehem is lit with many-colored lights. Like rivulets they stream down the city's face, falling in-between vibrant shapes of snowmen and Santas, stars and trees. Why does Bethlehem weep luminescent tears disguised as twinkling strings of light?
Until one week ago there was not a single place in its public square that even gave a hint of the reason for this pagan day's redemptive transformation into a holy day. No manger scene, no God-incarnate baby boy. No creche, no cradle, no cross. Even the Church of the Nativity was decorated only by a single large tree. (About one week ago, a nativity scene was hastily erected next to the towering tree.)
Two thousand years after his birth there was, once again, no room for Jesus in Bethlehem.
Early this month Shari Khoury brought this observation to her husband's attention. Pastor Steven Khoury took note. He examined city streets and saw for himself what he had not noticed.
The Khoury's live in Bethlehem. Steven was raised there where his father, Dr. Naim Khoury, started Holy Land Ministries in 1980. During the past 32 years Steven, his family and the ministry's congregations have experienced opposition to the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, God's incarnate Word made flesh.
There have been threats and muggings, fire bombs and murder. Many believers have fled the region, but the Khoury's remain. Every Sunday, worship and teaching are broadcast from speakers atop their local church's steeple, clashing with Islamic calls to prayer.
On December 5, Steven Khoury made a decision. He composed brief words, commissioned graphic art, hired a printer. In the middle of the night and into next day's early morning light, workmen hung the composition on the city's largest billboard. Across an expanse of 1200 square feet, in Arabic and English too, it reads:
Jesus: born to die and rose again. Invite him in to your heart so that you too might live
And the response? Two weeks later, only days ago, Pastor Khoury received a call. Officials from the city were on the line, informing him that they were being asked to remove the sign.
That same day vandals cut power to lights that illuminate the sign at night. The owner refused to repair them, fearing they would only be cut again along with an escalation of damage to his property.
The print shop also received disturbing calls. Although the words were never spoken, the message was clear: take Jesus down.
Tonight the billboard is still up, lit now by portable lights from the back of a car. The cost is high. Thousands of dollars have been spent. So far individual donations to help with the expense total about $60.00.
In spite of public exposure on YouTube, radio, television and in written press, other Christian organizations in Bethlehem have reacted with resounding silence. So too Christian organizations throughout Israel.
Pastor Khoury has no regrets. "Scripture says that if we do not speak up for Jesus, for who he is and what he has done, stones will cry out. With God's help, I will not remain silent. I will not be a quiet one rebuked by shouting rocks."
Brian Schrauger is a Christian media consultant who is currently visiting and reporting from Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories. You can learn more about Brian and his work by visiting BrianSchrauger.com
Click Here to learn more about Holy Land Ministries and the brave work of the Khoury family.