“From a manger to the cross”

Christmas edition
Palestine Update  98

“From a manger to the cross”

Jesus came not to a Throne

He came not to a throne, but to a manger. He lived not as a king, but as a servant.
He chose not a kingdom, but a cross. He gave not just a little, but everything

Holley Gerth

This is the Christmas edition of Palestine Update. Its theme is “From a Manger to the Cross”.  (Ranjan Solomon-Editor)

O little town of Bethlehem…when will you see justice and real peace?
Guest Editorial
Aruna Gnanadason, India

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy darkness shineth, the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the year, are  met in thee tonight!

Christmas, the season that marks the fruition “of all our hopes and the end of all our fears”, is with us!  The event of the birth of Jesus Christ comes alive for me in this familiar carol as does the memory of that little town of Bethlehem which I was privileged to visit – the place where Jesus was born.  The gospels record how Mary, Jesus’ mother, birthed her baby in a stable amidst political turmoil and threats from Herod the ruler of those times. He of course did not welcome the birth of the Christ-child – as this little child was viewed as a political threat to Herod’s power, the power of a king crowned by the mighty Roman Empire.  Jesus was called the “king of the Jews”, by the three magi who followed a star and travelled far distances to pay homage to this king – the “anointed one” (the Christ); and laid their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh before him!  Herod decreed that all babies be killed in Bethlehem to try to avert the threat to his supremacy, by this tiny baby. Joseph, the father of Jesushad has to orchestrate the escape of the mother Mary and the infant Jesus to safety in Egypt.

This season reminds me of a woman I met in Palestine – Teresa (name changed) whose life is riddled with the daily struggles under Israeli Occupation of Palestine. Under the siege of Bethlehem in 2002 getting to the hospital was a horrendous experience under curfew!  During a brief lifting of the curfew she was rushed to the hospital in time.  The necessary life-saving drug seemed a distant possibility. Would she reach the hospital in time for her delivery dodging the curfew?  Eventually, Teresa safely delivered her twin babies.

Teresa’s life is set in a context of ongoing and agonizing historical complexity. Israel has enacted an ever-tightening hold on both the land and people within Palestine, and Palestinian land has been reduced to the West Bank and Gaza now, making up less than 22% of historic Palestine. Lest we forget, Palestine includes the 50,000 Christians remaining in Gaza and the West Bank – with an estimated 30,000 of them living in Bethlehem.

To ‘protect’ itself from supposedly Palestinian attacks, Israel started building a ‘separation barrier’ in 2002, ignoring international law. It is predicted that when completed only 13% of the wall will be along the Green Line and the remaining 87% will be inside the West Bank. It ensures a situation where Israel has access to the best land and natural resources of Palestine. The international community is muted and does little to censure this unilateral infringement of international law in building a wall that tears into the lives and lands of the Palestinian people.

Will this Christmas bring peace to a people who have no peace in their homeland?  The violations of international law and the abrogation of the rights of the Palestinian people continue unabated.  New threats to the region have been ignited with the threat to the status of Jerusalem.  The USA’s unilateral declaration to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel!  Clashes erupted everywhere in the beleaguered region of Palestine. This move portends violence and war, and obliterates years of diplomacy, and efforts for peace. The sentiments and fears of the Palestinian people and the other Muslim majority nations in the region are wounded. The aspirations of the Palestinian people for justice and peaceful existence have been trampled with one arrogant swoop of power.

And as we think of all forms of solidarity and action that are demanded from us let this be our prayer: Let justice and peace be given a chance this Christmas in Palestine and in all our lives!

 “This is the star we follow and we will not give up on hope”
– Nora Carmi, Palestinian Christian-

As all eyes and hearts turn towards the little town of Bethlehem in Palestine, during this Advent/Christmas Season, we Palestinian Christians prepare to commemorate the birth of the Prince of Peace in a manger. Yet, does the world truly understand the message of the love of God incarnated in the birth of Jesus Christ?  How will this manger to cross painful journey lead to liberate and result in a true salaam/shalom/peace of the faithful descendants, who resiliently and patiently endure man-imposed oppression and injustice, by transforming hearts and minds to restore humanity; if spirituality, moral values and implementation of international laws are ignored?

As long as there are still “Herods” who think that they have power to impose structured violence of domination and rule, and we have witnessed this week the new American Herod’s decision to destroy the aspirations and hopes of the Palestinians by eliminating their rightful claim to their city, Jerusalem, the struggle of the oppressed in Palestine and elsewhere, who seek and pursue justice will not cease, for our painful journey from the manger does not end on the cross, but rises from the cross into life. This is the star we follow and we will not give up on hope.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with you today and always and I look forward to the day when we can say Palestine is free!
– Allie Jayne, United Kingdom-

Allie Jayne seen on the extreme left of the picture
My dear brothers and sisters, try with all your might to remain hopeful. My heart is filled with love and compassion for you; I feel your pain. From time to time I am so overcome with sadness as I read daily articles about the oppressive and destructive nature of the occupation that very occasionally I feel the need to step away and take a break from activism. In this situation, I ask myself ‘what would Jesus do?’ I know that he would remain committed to the cause, always fight injustice and he would never give up on his people and walk away, so I cannot. I refocus my thoughts on the Cross and remember a favourite verse of mine from Philippians, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”.

I stand shoulder to shoulder with you today and always and I look forward to the day when we can say Palestine is free! May you know His blessing this Christmas!

“Let us be unafraid to follow in the example of Jesus, who in his journey from the Manger to the Cross revealed the good news for all people”
Gichuru, Canada-
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2: 7 NRSV).
For anyone who has ever given birth or held a newborn infant, this description of the first few moments of Jesus’ life evokes a sense of the absolute vulnerability of the newly born. Lying in feed trough, the infant Jesus who perhaps had barely drawn his first breath was born into Roman military occupation and was already under threat of death King Herod who sought to hold onto imperial power. This brand-new life filled with possibility and potential came into the world facing the real-time threat of death, and eventual death on the Cross. Yet, the angel told the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Even in the face of occupation and death.

Millions of people around the world today face similar circumstances to those under which Jesus was born. In this 21st Century Christmas, newborns will come into the world, shivering and frightened, only to be wrapped in bands of fragile cloth. There will be no shelter for their vulnerable bodies. For some, their earliest moments on Earth will not be filled with good news of great joy, nor celestial signs to wise strangers bearing gifts. Instead, they and their loved ones will face immediate hunger, sickness, war, occupation, and imminent death.

As we celebrate this Christmas Season immersed in commercialism, tinsel and bright lights, may we be heralds of the good news to those born into oppression in our time. Heeding the words of the angel that first Christmas night, let us be unafraid to follow in the example of Jesus, who in his journey from the Manger to the Cross, revealed the good news for all people – that all might have live in full. Merry Christmas!

In the midst of people always asking the question What is in it for me? The Bible provides us with a perspective of resistance and hope
Ulrich Duchrow, Germany-
Few people realize that the famous account of the life of the Jesus followers’ community in Jerusalem after Pentecost contains a sensational theological thesis (Acts 4,31ff.): Sharing property in a community bears witness to the resurrection of Christ. For today this says: In the midst of imperial capitalism, in the midst of land grabbing in Palestine and elsewhere and in the midst of people always asking the question ”What is in it for me”?. The Bible provides us with a perspective of resistance and hope. This can be practised not only in intentional communities, but politically. People can be mobilized against the privatization of basic goods and services – water, energy, transport, education, health. Particularly municipalities can be alliance partners here.

There has been an outstanding story of hope this year – against “intellectual private property”. After the civil war in El Salvador the former Guerilla came to power (FMLN). They started to support the peasants growing their own seed – and they succeeded. The US government came threatening the government: “you are members of the World Trade Organization. So you are forbidden to support your peasants. You have to operate in completely open markets.” So Monsanto had to come in with their lethal mix of genetically modified seed, artificial fertilizer, herbicides. But the peasants had become so effective that they could offer cheaper prizes than Monsanto. So El Salvador regained its food sovereignty. Life has proven stronger than death.

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
– Katherine Cunningham, USA-

Centre: Katherine Cunningham, on her left, Rifat Kassis and on her right is Rev. Jeff DeYoe, Moderator IPMN.

There is a biblical question that resounds with a sobering clarity this season, from the closing chapter of Luke’s gospel. Two followers of Jesus are walking away from Jerusalem reviewing the events of the previous days, sorting out confusion and grief.  They encounter a traveler who inquires about their intense conversation. One of them, Cleopas, replies to the stranger: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  (Luke 24:18)

The story tells us that the stranger is Jesus, known in the breaking of bread and revealing who he is in the words scripture, including the Prophets. Christian faith reads the Gospel backwards, from end to beginning.

The Crucified One is the child who was born in Bethlehem because the emperor demanded Joseph and Mary show up for a headcount for imperial taxes. Mary couldn’t even give birth in her own house. Jesus revealed the message of what God’s love and justice intends for all humanity. The angels sang, “Peace on earth” at his birth. He lost his life over that good news.

Jesus’ life began and ended shaped by the demands and of the empire and collusion borne of occupation.  Jerusalem was the flash point with empire for Jesus. It cost him everything. Jerusalem still rules with brutality and oppression.

Read the story backwards from Resurrection to Manger. The shadow of Jerusalem’s Cross fell on the fields of Bethlehem’s shepherds, where it still falls.  But also learn from Jesus the power of holding on to the God’s gospel of peace. The angels’ song is dimmer but it still echoes.

Jesus means Peace for Life
Kim Yong Bock, Korea –

  • Jesus means Peace for Life!
  • Jesus our friend, through Bethlehem of Palestine you came as Peace into this world of empires!
  • The empires of this world are trembling with fear as their castle of infinite greed and domination approaches its end.
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • Jesus, you are warmly embraced by the people of Palestine as the joy of peace! They stand in courage, guarded by the angels, singing in celebration of peace and life.
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • As the people in Palestine know, the prophets longed for your Advent, for breaking down the walls of imperial domination.
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • Your coming has brought fear to the empires, which have wielded their destructive tyranny against the lives of children and adults.
  • But you are our peace, and we join the people of Palestine in singing hymns of joy and celebration.
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • You have walked together among the friendly animals, the olive trees, and all your other sisters and brothers in Palestine.
  • Jesus, you are Peace!
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • The people of the East also welcome your Advent joyfully.
  • Just as those wise friends from the East brought gifts to respect and honor your birth, we welcome you as our Peace on earth!
  • Jesus means Peace!
  • Your wisdom and compassion have given us the vision of a feast of life among all people and all living beings on our earth!
  • Reconfirming the power of your Peace, we celebrate your birth with deep thankfulness, as together we strive to make a peaceful world.

“I am a foreigner and a stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” Genesis 23:4 (NIV)
– Solomuzi Mabuza, South Africa-

Fact is that Abraham never occupied the land of the Canaanites. We read in Genesis 23:1-20 how Abraham – the Father of the Monotheistic Faiths and/or Religions – how he negotiated with the Hittites in verse 4 to sell him some property for a burial site so he could lay to rest his beloved wife Sarah. He relegated himself to the status of a foreigner in the land of milk and honey. Because of his conduct and humanity the people of the land did not discriminate against him or treated him otherwise. They battled even to comprehend why he wanted to buy some land when he could just bury his loved one without any red tape. Such was the character of Abraham that even the people of the land could not discriminate against him and his family. This is the character of the people of Palestine from time immemorial to date. They are hospitable people who love fellowship and share everything from the soil with their guests and neighbours.

God chose Palestine before as a platform to administer the redemptive plan to save humankind from sin and return humanity back to the original plan of fellowship with God in eternity. No country in the world – no city in the world – can claim rights to the Manger except Palestine – except Beit Le Hem – whence the Bread of the World cometh from. There is no Christmas that can be authentic if this simple truth – a gift from God – is not affirmed and acknowledged. Capitalism may change the message of Christmas for their consumption purposes but no economic system can permeate the sacrosanct message of Christmas that it all began in Palestine.

Today, as I write this message my community down in South Africa – East of Johannesburg – in a township called Kwa-Thema – this truth is affirmed. By God’s grace we have produced three Ecumenical Accompaniers who participated in the WCC EAPPI programme to learn about the situation in the Occupied Palestine Territories so that it can be shared with the masses on the ground. Now we do not fellowship like those who do not understand the painful reality of the struggle of the native inhabitants of Jerusalem. How gratifying it was on the 2nd Advent Sunday – December 10th, 2017 – to witness our laity leading a service on their own wherein Jerusalem was mentioned by the preacher at least 4 times in context. Palestine was mentioned in the brief address of our Parish Pastor and in prayer by the Liturgist. This is an indication that slowly the message emerging from the Manger to the Cross is fast becoming understood for these times.

I reiterated on the 2nd November 2017 at a gathering of the World YMCA Strategy Delivery Summit – held in Litomysl, Czech Republic – in my Devotion the words of the son of Beit Le Hem – Mitri Raheb – that 100 years ago Lord Balfour promised the Land of Palestine to the European Jewish Community in Diaspora. It was not Lord God who did so. As we slowly approach Christmas our message from the South is simple. There is no way Palestine will be changed to become what The United States of America State President and many forces of darkness want it to be. Jerusalem remains the City of God and All People of Palestine. From the Manger Jesus the little Baby had to defeat Herod the Great and took refuge in Egypt. He would later return to the Cross in Jerusalem wherein he defeated Death.

Resist any force that seeks to retell the story of Abraham and God’s Promise to the Israelites. Zionism is not a Divine Plan but rather it is a Colonial Project which will be defeated. Palestine will emerge victorious in God’s Time.

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem
Jerusalem will be the place in which we will witness resurrection: life defeating death
Felipe Gustavo Koch Buttelli
, Brazil

Hope is once again moving towards Bethlehem. The liturgical calendar of Christian tradition usually recognizes the resurrection as the central part of the Christian year. Jerusalem is the centre of Christian hope. Not only that, it is the place from which Christian faith was disseminated to every corner of the world. The geography of Christian hope, thus, is a geographic move from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, where it reaches its deeper reality, its culminating point. However, Christians, especially the Palestinians from whom we inherited the Christian message of hope, are being deprived of Jerusalem. Every year we observe more and more restrictions on the right to visit Jerusalem during Easter celebrations, besides the long prohibition for Christians from West Bank to visit Jerusalem. The recent announcement of President Trump, supported by Christian Zionists, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, gives  recognition to an illegal occupation and supporting the annexation of Jerusalem as part and capital of Israel – which is not recognized by the international community. Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine! But once again, Christian hope is moving to the manger, to Bethlehem. Once again, we are approaching the manger in a context of despair in a long night of abandonment. Once again we find ourselves without knowing what might come next and where should we expect that hope can come from. That is again the message of Christmas hope for all the Christians in the world, but especially for the Palestinians, who live like Jesus in a context of imperial tyranny. Hope will rise again and that will come from Bethlehem. We know that it will lead us through the via sacra, but that after all, Jerusalem will be the place in which we will witness resurrection: life defeating death.