by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, WDC Associate Conference Minister (Kansas-Based)
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 dark streets shineth
the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the angels keep
Their watch of wond’ring love.
O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to all on earth!
These lyrics of a beloved Christmas song have been running through my head. Not because it’s after Halloween and time to break out the Christmas decorations, either. (Frankly, I do well to decorate our home for Christmas by the third Sunday of Advent!) No, this song has become a prayer in my heart and mind for the people of Israel-Palestine. October 15-18 I was privileged to attend the conference Christ at the Checkpoint USA in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As I listened to Palestinian and American Christians tell accounts of what is happening in Bethlehem and the surrounding area today, I kept hearing with a sad longing, “O little town of Bethlehem.” I remembered my own sense of astonishment and grief as I saw for the first time the thirty-foot high wall separating the people of Bethlehem from friends and neighbors in other parts of the West Bank, as well as separating farmers from their land.
Today in Bethlehem there is little silence, though the streets are dark, at times, because electricity sometimes is turned off as punishment of all the Palestinian people for the desperate actions of a few. It doesn’t happen often in Bethlehem itself, because Bethlehem is a West Bank city that makes significant money for the Israeli economy through tourism. But, in other parts of the West Bank and Gaza, basic services of gas, electricity, and clean water are inconsistent or even scarce as one means of governmental control of the Arab population in Israel.
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee..”. People who follow Jesus today who live in Bethlehem and in other parts of Israel-Palestine are struggling to hope. They are caught in-between the political realities that exist in the State of Israel. What does it mean to live in the State of Israel, while not being recognized as citizens of Israel? What does it mean to be Christians living in a “Jewish State?” What does it mean to be living in a country under a government that looks more and more like an unjust, apartheid state with different laws and different choices, even different roads for Israeli Jews and Israeli non-Jews? The hope of Christ is real for Palestinian Christians. It has to be. Some Palestinian Christians speak of themselves as “Good Friday Christians awaiting the resurrection” of new life when God’s justice and mercy breaks forth for them. But, fears are real, too, as they watch their children being harassed daily at security checkpoints. Sometimes parents’ fears are realized as their children as young as 12 years old, are arrested and held without legal counsel for weeks at a time.
Yet, even in the midst of all of these daily injustices, the followers of Jesus who live in Bethlehem and beyond, will remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus and will again sing of the ancient promise of “peace to all on earth!”
Through our prayers, our study, our pilgrimages, and our purchases, may we be part of this vision of hope and Divine peace for all. Amen.