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.
One 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
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 www.united-church.ca/getinvolved/unitedforpeace/resources for
more background to the Moderator’s Bethlehem Prayer.
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, www.hcef.org.
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
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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