Meaningful engagement by American Christian in the Holy Land in the hopes of contributing towards a sustainable, just peace is both necessary and possible.
One chilly Minnesota Saturday in the early months of 2002, I found myself listening in on a conversation between parishioners in my small Orthodox church while we made candles. The radio was reporting news of what became known as the Nativity Church Siege in Bethlehem, and my fellow parishioners were weighing in on their thoughts about the crisis. None of us had ever been to the Holy Land, but this faraway event in a place we only knew through Gospel readings and icons still had an impact in our humble little parish and its parishioners.
More than sixteen years after that morning of melting down paraffin wax in a church basement, my life and the welfare of the Palestinian Christian community of Bethlehem so impacted by that Siege have become forever intertwined. I spent ten years living and working in the city of Bethlehem district, finding a place in the community of my Palestinian Christian wife and sharing in the struggles of the local people. Yet even with the very unique set of circumstances, I feel that my fellow American Christians do not need such a significant personal connection to become engaged in the pursuit of a sustainable, just peace in the Holy Land.
This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope, Advent II: Peace, and Advent III: Joy.
Loving the Stranger
Destructive policies, actions, and statements are all over the news these days. While this dismays and deeply disturbs many of us, maybe it is useful to try to see the glass half full.
Leaders around the world have gained power by relying on fear-mongering, hate-filled incitement, supremacy, and an encircling of the wagons in a laager or ghetto mentality while undermining both democracy and the world order established post-World War II.
Such subversion of critical agencies such as the United Nations, international law, organs of accountability, or basic civil rights forces us to choose the reality in which we function. We can either go with the masses down the dangerous road to full-fledged fascism, apartheid, and dictatorship, or we can step back and choose differently and fight for human values.
That freedom of choice is a blessing many do not enjoy, but for those of us who believe firmly in the spiritual way – whether via the wisdom of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or other religious doctrines valuing truth, love, freedom, goodness, empathy, caring (especially for the weak or The Other) and the sacred, holistic nature of life – this is a period in which to reclaim those values.
Listen to the Episode Here
Lorice is a mother of three and a grandmother of five who was raised in the Beit Sahour area of the Bethlehem district. After her children finished university, they left Palestine for opportunity elsewhere. Her sister also went abroad. While she lives with her husband and aging father in the house her father built for her, she says she often feels alone, and in the future, plans to move to America where one of her daughters and her sister live. “I think if you love something, you love somebody; it’s your home.” Read more
This is the third entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope and Advent II: Peace.
Joy to the World: The Confession of a Jerusalem Resident
One of the most beloved Christmas carols—one we all know by heart—is not really about Christmas. Yet throughout the holiday season, “Joy to the world” is everywhere. We hear it on the radio, in shopping malls, at candlelight services, and it’s always blaring through the rickety speakers of Christmas-tree lots.
Even so—the lyrics of “Joy to the World” were not written about Christmas. Issac Watts composed the hymn in 1719 as a paraphrase of Psalm 98 and envisioned the tune as a celebration of Christ’s return at the end of days. “Joy to the World” was written about Christ’s second coming—not his first. The song is the victory anthem of a triumphant king, not the words-set-to-music of a fragile, crying baby in a manger subject to the death-warrant of a jealous king, Herod.
I was troubled when I first learned this. I didn’t want some historical detail about authorial intent getting in the way of my festive Christmas singing. But with time, I began to ponder: why would these lyrics fit so well with Christmas? Why would they resonate so deeply with both Christ’s second and first coming?
This is the second entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land. Catch up now: Advent I: Hope.
On Peace, by Joy of Reconciliation
The true joy of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is often mistranslated by the world, packaged to us in the form of abundance, private gatherings, indulgence in food and gifts, and wrapped in stress. The world, in its fallen state, skews matters of the divine and leaves us empty. The world, in its fallen state, which rejected Christ, belittles His creation and mocks the true human potential. But beautifully, the gift of Christ’s Divine Incarnation and subsequent Crucifixion and Resurrection always resonates with the human soul. His love in these acts is transformative. It is a gift of peace, meant for all. It lifts us up and inspires us to reach our highest calling. Those imbued with such love have lined the darkest chapters of human history with opportunities for light. We call them
peacemakers, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Listen to the Episode Here
Armenians in Jerusalem have existed since at least the fourth century. Today, there are only approximately 790 Armenians who reside within this close-knit minority community in the Old City of Jerusalem and 7,000 throughout Israel and Palestine. In the ninth episode of Women behind the Wall podcast, listeners hear from Vicky, an Armenian Christian who was born and raised in the Old City and now lives in the Bethlehem district. Listeners will learn what it is like to be a minority among the Israeli and Palestinian communities in conflict.
Vicky says she identifies only as Armenian. She grew up in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, went to an Armenian school, an Armenian church, and Armenian social events as a child. She says it was not until adulthood that she began to feel a part of the Palestinian community. “For an Armenian, we always have a neutral stance in this conflict. Until I moved to Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and then I started to see a different side of my bubble, let’s say. Although I had Palestinian friends, but like politically, culturally, religiously, I was not involved.” Read more
This is the first entry in our Advent 2019 devotional series. For the four Sundays of Advent and Christmas Day, we will be releasing Advent reflections from voices in the Holy Land.
Hope Incarnate: Advent Reflection from Bethlehem
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out
hate; only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the days shorten, and the heat of late summer begins to subside, giving way to the cooler wintry sun, Bethlehem is preparing for Christmas. Lights and decorations are going up everywhere, and the Christmas Tree in Manger Square stands as a symbol of joy and hope in the town where Christ was born.
The other evening, I crossed through Checkpoint 300 (the main checkpoint which separates occupied Bethlehem from Jerusalem) and walked along the Separation Wall and into the Aida refugee camp. The Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem was set up shortly after the 1948 Nakba when families were forced to flee from their homes in what is now the State of Israel. Over the years, like many other refugee camps across the West Bank & Gaza, Aida has suffered from a lack of amenities, poor housing, and has frequently been subject to military incursions and reprisal.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. Read more
Psalm 80: 3, 6-7
Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved. . . .
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors
and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors. Read more
“Yes, indeed—God is my salvation. I trust, I won’t be afraid. God—yes God!—is my strength and song, best of all, my salvation!” Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation. And as you do it, you’ll say, “Give thanks to God. Call out his name. Ask him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what he’s done, spread the news of his great reputation! “Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what he’s done!”
Isaiah 12:2-5 (MSG)
Take courage for there is joy in this life!
For many Christians observing the third week of Advent, they will read the words of the prophet Isaiah. These words call them to give thanks and praise to the Lord God, with a joy that springs forth from God’s “wells of salvation.” This good news of salvation became flesh with the birth of Jesus, entering into the lived reality of humanity on earth. Today, this call to joy is in the very practical act of collecting water. “Joyfully you’ll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation.” These words remind us that it is the fundamentals of being human that truly matter and are quite beautifully, enough. Read more