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.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
As we celebrate the final Sunday of Advent, as well as Christmas Eve, it is only fitting to focus on Jesus—Emmanuel, God With Us—who is Love. With so much discussion in the news about the actions of the powerful, of nations, states, and politicians, let us remember our savior, who came into the world in the most vulnerable of circumstances. He came as a baby, born in the most dire of circumstances, to parents who weren’t even wed. And yet, his birth changed everything. Through him we are able to see God, because he is God. Read more
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Christmas season is full of light – sparkling lights on the Christmas tree; houses in the neighborhood decorated with lights for the coming holiday; candles flickering on the mantle; a fire in the fireplace representing warmth, comfort, and hope. These are the images of light we will hold onto this Advent season.
And we hold these images as hope not only for our own lives; but for the lives of those suffering in Palestine, Israel, the Middle East, and around the world. We remember in our prayers this week:
- The men, women, and children who are living in Gaza; often with only a few hours of electricity per day.
- The 60,000 internally displaced persons in Gaza still waiting for a durable housing solution since the destruction of their homes during the 2014 Gaza War.
- The families affected by the 155 demolitions or confiscations of Palestinian owned structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during September and October 2016.
- Those affected by the terrible fires throughout Israel and the West Bank that destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing tens of thousands.
by Elli Atchison, World Vision
There are so many wonderful things about Christmas. My favorite parts are the beautiful decorations, holiday music, and sharing good cheer with family and friends. However, shopping is the part of Christmas I honestly do not enjoy. Finding the perfect gift is an almost impossible quest that I often dread. It is during these stressful moments that I try to reflect on some of the people who were on God’s list that first Christmas. What were the perfect presents He chose for each of them?
The first person on God’s list was Mary. She was a young girl from a humble family, living in the small town of Nazareth. Mary was, of course, engaged to be married to Joseph and probably dreaming about what life would be like after she became his wife. So, when a messenger came to Mary unexpectedly and revealed that God wanted to change her plans, I am sure she was frightened and confused. This stranger calmed her fears, and Mary said “Yes” to God’s call. Read more
by Mae Elise Cannon, World Vision
Advent is the season of hope. Hope in eager anticipation; waiting to celebrate the incarnation of God manifested in human form through the birth of Jesus. Hope in present circumstances; the small moments of heavenly triumph where the kingdom of God breaks forth into the dark realities of this world. Hope in the future; as we wait for the redemption of the world and the second coming of Christ Jesus. We hope for what is yet to come.
As we enter into this season of hope, we are reminded to celebrate, worship, and rejoice. The Psalmist speaks forth these words: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.” All of creation will cry out, singing for joy, recognizing the saving power of Jesus, for he does not leave us abandoned in our earthly circumstances, but He comes. He dwells with us. He judges in righteousness. He redeems. He is the manifestation of hope. Read more