Christmas Message

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Christmas Message
The Christmas Contradiction

By Joel Edwards, General Director of EAUK

The first time I visited the Holy Land twenty years ago I was afraid to go. Not so much because people were pointing guns at each other but because I was afraid of having my Sunday school image of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger destroyed.

Death by tourism!

But there was no fear of that in my recent visit with a small group of Christian friends to the Holy Land. Two thousand years ago Mary’s Bethlehem was a place of hope and painful contradictions. Mary herself was a contradiction – giving birth to the Prince of Peace as a teenage virgin in a strange town. Peace on earth has always come at a price.

That pain and contradiction is still present in the town where the tourism I once feared has been castrated by a military occupation, and where the Christian deputy mayor told us of the loss of his daughter in a fatal shooting and his decision to forgive.

Painful contradiction as I stood by a wall nine metres high and watched a businessman cry as he told us how the wall had shattered his life and livelihood, casting a shadow over his peace of mind. I touched the wall which divided the Jewish people from their neighbours and marvelled at the fact that we are allowed to enter their country without a landing card.

And then we crept softly into a monstrous monument; the Church of the Nativity - celebrated birthplace of Jesus - only to discover that we had walked into a private funeral of a young man who had died the day before.

I felt I experienced something of Mary’s contradiction as I sat in a Bible school in Bethlehem and heard Palestinian Christians talk of hope and a Principal who told us that his name meant ‘Good News’. And it was then that I realised - not just in my head but in my gut - that the words ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Christian’ are words which go together.

In the rickety town hall which felt like a converted chapel, the Mayor of Bethlehem sat under a photograph of Yasar Arafat and the Star of Bethlehem and thanked us for coming. The Bible school Principal shone with delight and said they felt remembered. And the businessman by the ugly wall was glad that we prayed for him.

When the Romans occupied Bethlehem a star drew Jewish shepherds and oriental wise men to Bethlehem’s complex situation, to celebrate the possibility of hope:

Peace on earth!

This Christmas we are all reminded of that invitation. Not to a sanitised stable with manicured livestock and sages in silk, but to the terrible complications of today’s Bethlehem.

And all of us have a role to play in this drama.

Peace on earth comes at a price. Today that star pulls us back to terrible contradictions. To pray for the security of the Israelis who are returning to the land of Promise. And to work for justice for those who are oppressed.

Peace on earth and good will to all people.