To our friends and partners in the Middle East and world-wide,
Greetings in Christ's name:
Born in Bethlehem, our Lord has come among us to bring us salvation,
to fill our souls with peace, and to inspire our lives with his truth.
We gather at the manger to worship.
This is a special season of the spirit. We lift our hearts to hear heaven singing.
Yet this is a difficult letter to write. Christmas should be a
time when we share our joys, when we lift up our hearts together to marvel
at Christ's birt the beginning of all our awareness of how God expressed
his love to everyone under heaven. Yet,
in the very place where it all began, today the signs in the skies are more likely to be the dark shapes of helicopter gunships and the song that is heard is the roar of rockets and the whistle of falling mortars. Death stalks the streets of Jerusalem, Bayt-Jala, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho and Gaza.
Death still visits every family in Iraq. He is seen in the alleyways where the poor gather what meager sustenance they can lay their hands on in Cairo, and he remains a familiar of many in the Sudan and in South Lebanon.
And we are burdened with bereavement, anger and deep frustration. How can we sing the
Lord's songs when we are so separated from hope and signs of peace?
And yet and yet we will sing his songs. The peace we have is not given to us by the world. It is the passing-understanding peace given to us by the Prince of Peace whose birth we now celebrate. Whenever we feel that it has slipped away from us, through God's Spirit it is renewed. And this renewal is a miracle in its own right. We are, after all, Christians of the land where Christ was born. How can we not be the first of all those who rejoice?
The Middle East Council of Churches, which I have the high honor
to represent, is a fellowship of Christian churches which has seen a great
deal of this world's story the good along with the bad. These are not the
first stormy days our churches have witnessed, although they might be among
the most intense. And the winds of violence turn our minds, in the first
instance, to our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
The Palestinian people sustain the Al-Aqsa Uprising, which the arrogance of Ariel Sharon intentionally provoked and the cynicism of Ehud Barak deliberately exploited. The people sustain their uprising because they know, in defiance of all arrogance and cynicism that their cause is just. Their blood is being shed in rivers, and still they endure. They shall continue to endure. Such is the spirit within them.
For all the moral compromises of violence, we need to be grateful that the Palestinians both Christian and Muslim have kept faith with the truth as they see it. They are paying a high price for their integrity. The brutal Israeli military machine pitted against them and the corrupt political system that machine serves bear witness to the fact that evil still is a force our world cannot ignore. The people who stand fast against it prick our consciences, awaken our spiritual reserves and help us renew our resolve that evil and death shall have no dominion.
Does the message of Christmas say any less? The Virgin Mary sang about
just such a moment of renewal when she envisioned God through
her Son scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
pulling down the mighty from their thrones, and exalting the poor
and the humiliated. The Incarnation is nothing less than God affirming
that truth and justice will triumph, and that those who suffer for righteousness'
sake and seek peace will see the fruits of their labors. The river of the
water of life flows from the throne of God in the heart of the New Jerusalem,
and the spreading tree of life by its banks bears leaves for the healing
of the nations. This is the gospel we affirm with every fiber of our being.
And in this season we draw upon that deep assurance, finding, in the teeth of all signs to the contrary, the peace that is ours in our Lord Jesus Christ.
We Christians of the Middle East call to all those who rejoice
in this season to rejoice with a conscience. Let them feel compassion for
the downtrodden and ill served, for those who are brutalized by greed and
bigotry, for those who are weak and
suffer for righteousness' sake. When we see the powers of the world unleash their weapons to trample human dignity underfoot, to kill and maim so as to crush the human spirit, to sap and drain the will to serve God as his stewards in creation, we rejoice in the witness of Christmas which demonstrates that the meek and the lowly can shake the rotten footing of those who think they are this world's sovereigns.
The message of Christmas, for us and for you, is joyful because it speaks of hope where none is to be entertained; it speaks of justice where those who administer it are corrupt; it speaks of peace where no trace of peace exists. The message of Christmas
is that, preposterous as it may seem, God is still to be counted upon to pierce the darkness with the heavenly chorus: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased." Then it is well for us that we strive to live with the firm intention to please God.
And so I greet you, my friends, in the name of all the Christians in the Middle East. May God guide your footsteps in the paths of peace.
Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour