NAZARETH — Though most Jewish and Muslim Israelis don’t celebrate the birth of the most famous Israeli Jew in human history, Christmas is most definitely celebrated here in Jesus’ hometown.
Today, for the 40th year in a row, Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians held a three-hour parade through the streets of Nazareth.
And an estimated 80,000 Muslims, Jews and fellow Christians from Nazareth — and scores of surrounding towns and villages — turned out to watch the beautifully decorated floats, enjoy the marching bands and listen to Christmas carols blasted on huge loudspeakers in Arabic and English.
My family and I had the joy of joining one of the few Israeli Arab Evangelical churches located in the historic, biblical city.
For the second year in a row, members of the “Home of Jesus The King Church” — led by Pastor Saleem Shalash — participated in the parade.
They created their own float, bought and packed 3,000 gifts, and handed out the presents as they walked along the parade route to the cheers, squeals and utter delight of children and their parents.
The church’s goal, Pastor Shalash told me, was to bless the children of Nazareth — regardless of their religious background — let families know that they are fellow Israelis who love Jesus and know that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
Nazareth, the ancient village where Joseph and Mary met and were betrothed to be married — and where they raised Jesus — is mentioned 19 times in the New Testament.
Here’s one prominent example.
“When [King] Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, and said, ‘Get up, take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.’ Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:19-23)
I shot video along the parade route and interviewed the pastor. Here is the edited version we just posted on YouTube.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.