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O Little Town of Bethlehem: Revisited

Dec 24, 2020

Perhaps at yours, as well.  Covid-19 is disrupting plans, extending separation and isolation. It is a time when we particularly revel in the gifts of family as part of a long and ancient story about another family. That family suffered exile and imperial hostility that culminated in a public execution, the kind reserved for those who threatened the rules and structures of Empire. Theologian Walter Brueggemann asks hard questions with Christianity’s relationship with Empire. Mostly, he suggests, we go along in order to get along. 
     A year ago I was in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Having sung of its (I imagined) snow-covered splendour, stillness and peace, Bethlehem’s reality stands in stark contrast to a sweet lyric. Juanita Lynn Austin’s alternative words and music offer a modicum of subversion.

O Town of Bethlehem — How we see thee lie
Caught amidst your people’s fears, this Wall blocks out the sky.
O Town of Bethlehem, how can we sleep as you are imprisoned?
We hear your people weep.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
Waiting at the mercy of our outraged cry.

If my name were Mary and I laboured at your gate
Would my child die helpless, locked out by fear and hate?
If my name were Joseph, would there be a test?
Would you check my fam’ly name? would I face arrest? 
O little town of Bethlehem:  
Do you ask us why we remain so silent as we watch your people die? 
Oh, Town of Bethlehem, Oh, Town of Bethlehem.

Juanita Lynn Austin, used with permission