It has been my joy to visit Bethlehem several times.

I have Palestinian Muslim friends there.

I have Palestinian Christian friends there.

I have sat with them, laughed with them, and eaten their wonderful food.

I have heard their stories – and a few of their heartaches.

I have walked their streets. I have walked around their walls – high, imposing walls – that can keep them from loved ones on the other side. Walls that create so much pain. . .and anger. . .and frustration.

I have been in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I have been in the mosque in that same square.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. The angels who announced his birth said he came for all people (The Holy Injeel, Luke 2:8-20). He loves all people. He calls all people to follow him, believe in him, give him their lives, and know peace. Peace in the heart. Peace with God.

Jesus offers all people a gift – not just on Christmas – but every day. It is the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness for every wrong we have committed (or every right we have omitted). Jesus offers us a clean slate with God. He offers an opportunity to know Him and receive His matchless love.

Today is Christmas.

Today I long for justice for the Palestinian people that the prophets spoke about. I love them.

Even more, I long for them – and for you – to receive the free gift of forgiveness. The gift that cost Jesus everything.

“. . .to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (The Holy Injeel, John 1:12-13).

O little town of Bethlehem, Jesus loves you.

So do I.