Thank you for all your prayers and support during the Advent mission to the Church in the Holy Land, our spiritual home, on behalf of Inter-Church Action and supported by our Bishop and the Primate, from which I returned yesterday.
It was a most interesting but disturbing visit, strikingly different from our years living there. Oppression was visible at every turn and the suffering in the souls of so many was hauntingly palpable.
All who requested prayer, and all parishioners, were prayed for, along with petitions for peace, at Golgotha last Monday.
Included below is a column written last week for my local paper.
May God grant you the abiding joy of the Prince of Peace this Christmas.
From Bethlehem, 2000 years later
"The light shines in the darkness..." . Last Sunday evening in Bethlehem, I was privileged to join perhaps 2000 Christians, Palestinians, in a candlelight march through the winding streets. This community of faith has been here for those 2000 years, through good times and very dark times. As we gathered in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity at the spot where Jesus was born humbly in a stable, our torches pierced the darkness. And the image was striking to all gathered. Only hours earlier, Israeli tanks had again shelled the civilian neighborhoods in Bethlehem, wreaking violence.
A local Christian, whose family roots in Bethlehem go back as far as anyone can remember, spoke eloquently. Anticipating Christmas, she proclaimed, "we are marching tonight to take back the streets haunted by fear, death and martyrdom...We are marching to bring to these streets hope and light."
For Christians here, the birth of Christ as a human, Son of the creator of all, is known to be the ultimate act of a loving God. Christmas will be celebrated with all its true meaning, not as a time of sentimental and short-lived happiness often misunderstood as love. Christmas will be kept as the return of love in worship and daily living to Him who first loved us -- in fact, He who loved us so much, that He became human like us, in our troubled world, for our own salvation, with angels proclaiming from the heavens peace and goodwill.
The night after the march of light, Israeli missiles unleashed their most violent attack on Bethlehem, perhaps in retaliation, hitting a church. Despite this, the knowledge that God became like us in Jesus Christ gives courage to the Christians here that the love of God guides them to truth, justice and dignity. They celebrate a rich belief that the light of Christ is the true power in the world that dispels darkness.
God's love invites all of us to live as children of the light. This Christmas, come to live in true love. Come to worship Him who was born in Bethlehem, not as a fleeting expression of sentiment, but as a way of life that inspires us to live with hope and courage, and to bring light and peace to the world.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)
By The Rev. Robert Assaly