As we read the Gospel stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood, we find King Herod learning from the Magi that the promised one, born king of the Jews, had been born (Matthew 2:1-6). The announcement of the long-awaited’s birth was not joyous news to this earthly king. On the contrary, the advent of this young child posed a significant threat to Herod’s power and position and led him to terrible pronouncements that altered a generation. Herod’s fear manifested in his order that all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity, two years old and under, be killed (Matthew 2:16).
When faced with the fear of losing their power and comfort, leaders and the privileged often lose sight of the broader picture. This was true in ancient times, as it remains true today in current politics, business, kingdoms, nations, neighborhoods, and even our faith communities. The “us and them” mentality presents a false dichotomy. There is only “us” – all of God’s children – a grand reality that those with wealth and influence still belong to those who are vulnerable, underserved, without voice or platform.
Isn’t technology marvelous? Computers used to take up the space of entire rooms; now, many carry what are essentially tiny transistors that are faster, with more memory, and include high definition cameras in our pockets and purses! Our smartphones connect us to others by phone, through social media, and we’re only a search away from being able to find answers to countless questions. This connectedness provides us with much information, misinformation, knowledge, and opinions. The news seems to find us these days rather than needing to walk to the postbox for a paper copy.
The pervasiveness of information and interaction can lead us to believe that we’re more connected to one another now than ever before; however, we are also more susceptible to find ourselves in silos of like-thinkers, separating “us” from “them.” These dividing lines previously crossed by coffee shop conversations, attending family gatherings, or around the water cooler at work have taken hold. Society loves dichotomies, consider these categories: right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, scarcity vs. abundance, dark vs. light, evil vs. goodness, sinful vs. righteous. More often than not, we put ourselves in the “good” or “right” category, simultaneously placing those who aren’t sure they agree or who certainly do disagree in the “other” camp. The gap fills with distance, darkness, vilification, distrust, and fear as the separation wall’s cornerstone.
A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea…
This year included the voices of many people exclaiming loudly the injustices they experienced and witnessed firsthand. Consider the story of Mohammed El Kurd, who raised his voice to talk about the realities his family suffered from settlers while living in the East Jerusalem of Sheik Jarrah. I wrote about his story in the article “From Child Displaced to International Activist” on the Do Justice blog of the Christian Reformed Church. The world first learned about El Kurd’s story from a Just Vision documentary called “My Neighborhood” featuring Mohammed when he was only eleven years old. At that time, in 2012, Mohammed’s family lost a portion of their home to settlers who moved into one side of his grandmother’s house. By 2021, Mohammed’s story hit international media, where he and his sister once again faced the threat of displacement as a part of the dozens of Palestinians from the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah being forced out by opposing claims of Jewish settlers. The activism of Mohammed and his sister Muna had such an impact that Time Magazine named them both on the list of 100 Most Influential People of 2021.
May we have ears to hear their story.