Nineteen members of our tour group visited Israel’s sacred sites in a luxurious air-conditioned bus that seats sixty. We had ample room to spread out and enjoy the splendid sites of this Holy Land. As we approached Bethlehem, a high wall adorned with barbed wire and a guard tower restricted my vision. How could this be the city of the Savior’s birth? It looks a like a prison.


We followed our Jewish guide, Dani, to a checkpoint, There he greeted and shook hands with a gentleman on the other side of a fence. Dani did not enter into Bethlehem, a Palestinian territory.

Instead, he entrusted us to a Palestinian guide who led us through an iron fence reinforced by razor wire. Inside the walled city of Bethlehem, we boarded a run-down, stifling hot van designed to accommodate twelve passengers. Some of the men in our group had to stand.

 Squeezed together on ripped, worn bus seats we drove though narrow streets littered with old vehicles. On corners, men in civilian clothes armed with rifles kept watch. Anxiety caused me to wonder. There is freedom beyond this wall—why would anyone want to live like this?

When we reached Shepherds’ Field, the site where Jesus was born, a transformation began. Apprehension fell behind. I hiked the emerald green hillside, and visualized the radiant star that led other frightened shepherd followers to seek something greater than themselves.

Each Christmas this scene replays in my head. I think of those trapped behind walls—physical and emotional. There are many types of prisoners. My prayer is for the addicts trapped in their denial who refuse professional help. I also pray for those of us who love them and struggle to understand their addictive behavior. Surely, they cannot want to live behind self-imposed stockades of shame.

 The Messiah came to eliminate the checkpoint of our excuses. He came to break down the walls of denial and fear that control us. This holiday season, I pray you will you follow the Star of Wonder. We don’t have to be afraid. Together we can claim the freedom His gift of self-esteem offers to all who will believe.

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem …!’ (Luke 2: 9-11 nlt).