Seasonal Reflection: Christmas, 2015

Reflecting on Peace

O Little Town of Bethlehem…
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

Having visited Bethlehem this past May, using that as home-base for 10 days while on a Holy Land pilgrimage, that “little town” has taken on new significance for me this Christmas. Bethlehem is no longer a little town. It is a city of approximately 30,000 people under Palestinian Authority, but entrapped by the Israeli separation wall, watch-towers, and check-points. It is a city that relies on its Biblical significance, attracting tourists and pilgrims to the various sites associated with Jesus’s birth. It should be a happy place considering the miraculous event that occurred there over 2000 years ago—and there is happiness and beauty to be found—but there is also much sadness and the ugliness of occupation. It is no longer the Roman Empire, but now the Israeli government that denies the people of Bethlehem freedom and prosperity. And Israeli policies and the consequent occasional violent eruptions stifle the tourism which Bethlehemites so desperately need.

Nativity Set with Separation WallOne of the major industries of Bethlehem is work in olive wood. There are many accomplished carvers making remarkable nativity sets, Christmas ornaments, statues of figures from the Gospels, crosses, rosaries, and more. A very popular new design for nativity sets includes a separation wall. The message is quite clear: If Jesus were to have come in recent years, the Magi might not have been able to get to him. Even the shepherds would have been blocked from reaching the Christ-Child as Shepherds Field is outside the walls of Bethlehem.

While we tend to celebrate Christmas as a miraculously exuberant occasion, scripture tells us and contemporary reality reminds us that there is an inseparable link between Christmas and Good Friday. It is our task to join together as community to do what we can to tear down the walls of fear and suspicion, hatred and violence, to allow the free flow of all people no matter their faith, nationality, race, or class. It is our task to do our part to transform “the hopes and fears of all the years” not into the fleeting merriment of Christmas or the passing sorrow of Good Friday but into the permanence of Resurrection Joy. Then, the “little town” of Bethlehem can truly be the place where “in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.”



Bethlehem Prayer

O Mystery as grand as the universe
O Mighty Force of all creation,
O Power beyond all our power,
You have come to us as an infant.
Vulnerable, fragile, beautiful.
You have come to us
in the midst of poverty,
powerlessness and longing.
Come again, O Promiser of Peace.
Come again, to the city of your birth
mired in fear, oppression and injustice.
Come again, where bullet holes
still pock the walls of Sanctuary.
Come again, where Children dream
of homes they have never seen.
Come again, where a single key
or the number 194 cry out again
of forced journey to Bethlehem.
Be born again in the camps.
Be born again in stables and homes.
Be born again in many cities and languages.
Be born again among nations.
Be born again in places of injustice.
Be born again a promise of hope,
a sign of love and joy to the world.
Be born again in our hearts,
that we too might be called
Makers of peace
and Children of God.


- The Right Rev. David Giuliano, Moderator of The United Church of Canada


Bethlehem is now walled off from Jerusalem and is home to three Palestinian refugee camps.

The “single key” refers to the many Palestinians in Bethlehem who still have keys to homes from which they fled in 1948.

The number 194 appears in many places in Bethlehem, and refers to United Nations Resolution #194 granting Palestinian refugees the “right of return” to their home villages.

The Church of the Nativity is still pocked by Israeli bullets that ended a 42-day siege in 2002 after Palestinian soldiers had taken refuge there.

See for more background to the Moderator’s Bethlehem Prayer.

Suggested Actions

  • Learn as much as you can about Bethlehem today. Support it with your prayers. Look for items made in Bethlehem and throughout Palestine to purchase for yourself or as gifts. If the opportunity presents itself, visit Bethlehem on a Living Stones Pilgrimage. One organization that arranges them is the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation,

    Resolve to break down walls of prejudice, fear, and hatred at home, as well as between nations and peoples. Reach out to people of other faiths, nationalities, races, and classes. Get to know them. Partner with them. Learn from them and invite them to learn from you.

    Speak out when you hear others criticizing or accusing another group of people solely based on their religion, race, or ethnicity. Write to legislators and join demonstrations to correct such unjust, misinformed, or incendiary perspectives.

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