Christmas greetings and news come to us from the office of Bishop Munib Younan in Jerusalem and Pastor Mitri Raheb
Do You Hear What I Hear?
A Voice Cries Out in the Desert: Prepare the Way of the Lord (Is 40:3)
CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM JERUSALEM 2007
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Christmas is the time to sing Gloria in Excelsis! It is the time to stand side by side around the manger with the shepherds and the Wise Men, amazed and awed by the miracle of God's birth among us.
But Christmas is also a time when we hear many other voices. But which voices bring us salvation? It is the voice that cries in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths."
After Annapolis, we hear many voices crying out that, finally, it is time for peace in Palestine and Israel. Many voices are joining together to call for that peace that we so desperately need.
Yet there are other voices. More than before, it seems a cacophony of confusion and chaos as world leaders and everyday people try to discern what really will make for peace, in the world and in our hearts.
Despite the voices of peace and reconciliation from the lofty levels of the leaders, on the ground, illegal settlements, the wall and land confiscation continue. Rockets and missiles continue to fly. People continue to talk of revenge and counter-revenge.
And in the midst of this peace talk, the voice of extremism drones on, finding ripe recruits in people who see no place at the inn for themselves. These voices of extremism all claim to speak for God, and waste no opportunity to turn a political conflict into a religious war. And they all claim that it is only their actions and perspectives will bring justice and liberation to the Middle East.
There are even voices this Christmas that claim that the Christians who are leaving Bethlehem are leaving because of conflict with the Muslims, ignoring the continued good relations for centuries between Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Also, conveniently ignoring the reality of occupation, the prison-like existence behind the wall in Bethlehem and the fact that it is hard for them to hear the voice of hope in a hopeless situation.
And, as always, there is the voice of cynicism and despair that sounds its refrain that nothing will ever change here, that the hatred is too entrenched and the pain too deep.
Jerusalem is a city surrounded by desert and rough terrain. In ancient times in the East, the road was easily erased by the blowing sands of the desert. In the West, the road was hard to follow in the rugged terrain that sloped downward to the sea. When an important person came to Jerusalem, it was necessary to make a better road. Brush was cut away, holes were filled, obstacles were flattened, bridges were built or repaired. This has also been done throughout the years to receive pilgrims. This is what inspired Isaiah and John the Baptist: "A voice cries out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord."
Someone who is greater than everyone is about to come: He who must come, the desired of the nations. A road must be made for Him, the path must be prepared so that He can arrive.
This is also true of the heart and in one's life. To prepare, we must still our hearts and celebrate the voice that sustains and that penetrates all the clouds, confusion and chaos… it reminds us:
"Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight the paths!"
Prepare to hear the true voice of peace, which echoed in the song of the angels to the shepherds and still tells us in the midst of our dark nights:
"Be not afraid! I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord."
It breaks into our world and silences all other voices.
Today is no different than the world into which Jesus was born. Many leaders of that day followed voices and values that made the blessings of life only for the wealthy and the powerful.
Then, like now, there are the Herods, whose voices of power, might and the sword leave innocent children dead and cities devastated.
Then, like now, there are the Caesars, whose voices will command anything to keep their empire in place and on top.
They, like many leaders today, would create a "peace" by the sword, built on submission to power, military might, exclusion and injustice.
This season we remember that we follow a different voice. It is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the voice of the Babe in a manger testifying to the way, the truth and the life.
This voice creates a peace that passes all understanding based on inviting all to share in the warm glow of the manger and God's blessings of life abundant. Here there are no swords, but a young woman who bears eternal Light into a dark, Bethlehem night. Only poor shepherds who were once afraid and are now at peace. Only wise men who journeyed long to kneel at the feet of a child.
As poet Ann Weems writes:
The World Still Knows
The night is still dark
And a procession of Herods still terrorizes the earth,
Killing the children to stay in power.
The world still knows its Herods,
But it also still knows men and women
Who pack their dreams safely in their hearts
And set off toward Bethlehem,
Faithful against all odds,
Undeterred by fatigue or rejection,
to kneel to a child.
And the world still knows those persons
to follow a star,
those who do not consider themselves too intelligent
to kneel to a child.
And the world still knows those hearts so humble
that they're ready
to hear the word of a song
and to leave what they have, to go
to kneel to a child.
The night is still dark,
but by the light of the star,
we can still see
to kneel to a child.
Do you hear what I hear?
The voice of life and love that calls us to kneel to a child, to prepare the way for a better future for all of our children, for salvation, peace, justice and hope. The voice of the ones who don't have a place at the inn. The voice that today calls Palestinians, Israelis and our whole world toward justice and non-violence and away from war and extremism. The voice that calls our leaders to take up their power and lead in a different direction: Preparing the way of justice, for justice is the only way that will lead to a comprehensive peace, security and freedom for all.
Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders in Jerusalem have formed the Council of Religious Institutions to make religion part of the solution and not part of the problem, to break down the barriers that stand in the way of justice and peace by seeing God in the other and accepting the right of the existence of the other. We are committed to education for our children that teaches tolerance and mutual respect, preparing fertile ground for the healing and future of our children. We are committed together to liberate ourselves from fear and conflict to live in freedom, security and justice. Please pray for us.
Do you hear what I hear? The Word has become flesh and lived among us, and it is possible that justice and forgiveness can become flesh among Palestinians and Israelis. This voice calls us to join the symphony of peace and justice which cries out with the angels:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace among all human beings."
Wishing you a peaceful Christmas
and a Blessed New Year in 2008!
Bishop Munib Younan
From Pastor Raheb at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem:
“The Word became Flesh”: this is the Christmas message.
God came to Earth to dwell among us, to be present with us, and to be manifest in this world. This REALity of God in Christ is our focus for this season, as we strive to create here on Earth signs of God’s continued presence in Palestine, 2000 years after Emmanuel, “God with us”, was born in Bethlehem.
To see some of these signs, we invite you to have a look at our website.
Featured on the special Christmas edition of http://www.annadwa.org/:
Azwaj Supports Young Families in Bethlehem - http://www.annadwa.org/articles/azwaj.htm
The ICB in the International Spotlight: Video Clips - http://www.annadwa.org/articles/videolink.htm
A Response to National Geographic’s “Bethlehem, 2007 A.D.” - http://www.annadwa.org/articles/natlgeo.htm
Advent Recital Series and Christmas Services - http://www.annadwa.org/articles/advent.htm
Blessings to you this Christmas and all through the year. We are grateful to have such committed individuals around the world supporting our work here in Bethlehem.
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
Tel: +972 2 277 0047
Diyar is a consortium of 3 Lutheran based, ecumenically oriented institutions (Dar Annadwa, ICB, Dar al-Kalima College, Dar al-Kalima Health & Wellness) serving the whole Palestinian community, from “the womb to the tomb”, with an emphasis on children, youth, women & the elderly through unique programs that are contextual & holistic in nature.
To receive bulletins from Ann Hafften, go to the web site: http://voicesforpeace.blogspot.com/