Ramadan, the Muslim celebration of the Quran, is about to begin, and in Palestine, it has a special meaning. When observed faithfully, Ramadan changes both the individual and society. Several times over the last fifteen years, I have taken groups of North American students and led public delegations to visit Golan for Development, a human rights organization located in Majdal Shams in Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. I ask the Siraj Center in Beit Sahour to arrange these meetings to introduce my groups to the Druze, their religion, and Israel’s military occupation of the Golan.
Golan for Development resists Israel’s unlawful occupation and works for freedom, equality, and social justice by offering agricultural services to Druze farmers, by providing basic health services in the five remaining Druze villages of Golan, and by establishing a kindergarten, community theater, and music center for children. Beautiful, nonviolent resistance to Israel’s brutal occupation has given the Druze of Golan a higher quality of life than would otherwise have been possible, although they still suffer under Israel’s relentless domination.
As a Historic Peace Church, one would rightly expect the Church of the Brethren to highlight the coming of one hailed as the “Prince of Peace.” That the angels proclaim, “Peace on Earth” and not long after, violence would be used by those in power attempting to stifle this coming child. The political and social context then and now make a robust focus on peace a clear need.
We also assert that all theology is practical—what some would call ethics—and as such, that the coming child embodies the fullness of God’s shalom is of immediate relevance for how we live as Christians and the church in the world. In another context I have defined peace as:
Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).
We’ve been waiting a long time for Jesus to return. I’m starting to feel like we’ve been stood up. What would it mean to give up on the notion that Jesus shall return to make it all okay?
Some time ago, I rejected the terrible vision of Jesus’ return as laid out in the book of Revelation. I recognize that the gospels occasionally present Jesus as endorsing violence against those who are opponents of the kingdom of God. I can even imagine that some kind of “crushing of the enemies of the kingdom” was a part of Jesus’ worldview. But I don’t think it is Jesus’ best material, and I see the cross and resurrection as a rejection of this way of thinking. At the moment where we might imagine God intervening to vanquish the enemies of God’s kingdom, God is absent. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares that he has been forsaken by God. At the meal that celebrates God’s violent intervention to save the Jewish people, Jesus asks his followers to remember the moment when God did not choose to intervene violently. Jesus’s death is not necessary; it is tragic. Jesus dies in solidarity with all victims of violence, especially the victims of state and religious violence. We should be horrified at Jesus’s death and should vow to stop the senseless scapegoating of other humans. In this way, the resurrection can be understood as God’s rejection of the cross as a means of keeping the peace.
The idiom “the other side of the tracks” usually refers to a line of demarcation and separation, often actually railroad tracks, between the more affluent part of a town from a more impoverished area. The separation is often both economic and racial/ethnic. Depending on which side you are on, you either have an acute awareness of the other side—its influence and control on your life—or you have some vague stereotypical ideas of a place you rarely go.
Palestinians know and understand the idiom well, simply by changing one word, “tracks” to “wall,” referring to the separation barrier/wall that Israel began to build in 2002. The separation is also psychological between Israelis and Palestinians. Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the barrier is a 30-foot high concrete wall.
God enters time and history through the divine incarnation. The Almighty God invites Himself into our lives in a state of absolute weakness and vulnerability. The newborn lying in a manger holds in His hands the secret of the universe, the secret of the entire creation and absolute love. In the cold night of Bethlehem, the one who carries within her the treasure of the world, the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God, travels across the city in search of a place to give birth to the one who will change the course of the history of mankind. Today, we still count the years from this glorious moment when time and space were sanctified, merging in a divine kairos, an instant of the Kingdom in which still echoes the alleluia of the angels. As we contemplate this glorious miracle, we experience a sense of mingled wonder and awe that church expresses in the Orthodox hymns for the feast: “Heaven called the Magi by a star, and thus it brought the first-fruits of the Gentiles to You, the infant lying in the manger. And they were amazed, not by scepters and thrones, but by utter poverty. For what is more shabby than a cave? And what is more humble than swaddling clothes? But it was through these that the riches of your divinity shone forth. Lord, glory to You!” (Hypakoe of the Nativity)
As a child growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I was always excited to see my parents bring out the Advent wreath and place it in the center of our dinner table. With its arrival, I knew that Christmas was coming soon. Set with four candles, three purple and one pink, to be lit in a particular order, one for each Sunday leading up to Christmas, I understood that the Advent Season is a special time of waiting and preparing for the coming birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
My parents made sure I also understood that Christian families around the world were gathering in their homes, just like my family, to light candles on their Advent wreaths and read the same Scripture passages about hope, peace, joy, and love. The spirit of unity and solidarity made a deep impression on my heart.
by Elli Atchison & Natalie Wisely, World Vision
While acts of terror and violence made headlines, a group of young adults gathered to learn about peace and reconciliation in Washington, D.C. These diverse activists came from across the country, with a shared interest in actively promoting peace in the Holy Land.
The summit was hosted by Millennial Voice for Peace (MVP) and World Vision. MVP members are strongly motivated by the core Christian values to love and pray for one’s enemies (Matt.5:44) and step into the call to be part of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20), just as Jesus served in His life.
The underlying message of MVP is clear. It affirms the God given dignity of all people, regardless of race or religion (Gal. 3:26-29). And it believes that only advocacy that hears, recognizes, and validates the concerns and needs of both the peoples will be effective in creating lasting peace. Read more