LATIN PATRIARCATE – JERUSALEM

Christmas Homily 2000

1. Happy and Holy Christmas to all of you. May we celebrate, with the grace of God, next Christmas with more peace, justice and human dignity.
Before beginning our meditation on the mystery of Christmas, I like to recall to mind the memory of our beloved brother Patriarch Deodoros, whom God called to him. For the repose of his soul, and for all the Orthodox Church, we pray.

I greet President Yaser Arafat, and all the civil and municipal authorities, our guests, Minister Johan Sauwens from Belgium, and Mrs. Louisa Morgantini, representative of the European Parliament. A greeting goes to the consular authorities. To all of you I wish the light and the peace of Christmas.

I greet and thank H.E. Most Reverend Jean Orchampt, bishop emeritus of Anger, present with us this night, to represent the Bishops; Conference of France and to express the solidarity of the Church of France with the Church of Jerusalem in these hard days.
I greet and thank the numerous Churches of the world, Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical, who have expressed their solidarity through various messages and actions, in order to support us in our trial: I mean the Churches in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa. With us and for us, they have prayed, acted and spoken.
I greet you pilgrims here present. Some of you came walking afoot since months and arrived today here. I greet your courage to be with us tonight, to share with us our difficult times and our prayer.
I greet all our faithful, either here present or those accompanying us, in their own parishes, in Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Cyprus.

2. On this Christmas night, we meditate the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God, as expressed in the first chapter of the Gospel of Saint John:In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God and the Word was God; The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1,1,14).

St Leo the Great commenting this mystery says: God has condescended and appeared in our humility. The Strong One has taken our weakness, the Eternal One our mortal nature. And in order to pay the debt of our human condition, the inalterable nature was united with the nature exposed to all kinds of suffering. Therefore, in order to better heal us, the only mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ must on one side be able to die, and on the other side, not be able to die.
It is therefore in the integral and whole nature of a true man that the true God was born; wholly in what belongs to him, and wholly in what belongs to us (St Leo the Great, 2nd reading of the 25th of March).

3. This is the mystery that we are invited to meditate in this holy night. It is the source of our joy, of our strength and our hope, in time of peace or war. What does this mystery tell us now, amidst our trials, amidst our dead and wounded brothers, amidst our demolished houses, our churches and convents shelled, and our besieged towns and villages?
This mystery tells us first of all, that all our relations as Christians are founded on love. This is the first feature of our identity. As God loves all his creatures, we love all the creatures of God. And Christian love is not limited to Christians, but embraces all without discrimination. Love is the greatest force which has built this world until now and which will continue to build it.
The mystery of God tells us, that we, Christians of this land, we are the witnesses of Jesus in his land. This is another fundamental feature of our identity. Here, God wants us to be Christians, not elsewhere on the earth. Whether we live at war, or in the Intifadah, whether our houses are demolished, our brothers are wounded or killed, it is here that God wants us to be Christians. This is our land, to claim our freedom, among our demolished houses and in our besieged towns and villages.
This mystery tells us also in these days, that we are Christians in an Arab Christian and Moslem society, and in a Palestinian society which claims its freedom. We are an integral part of this society. We are in its heart, we are neither outsiders nor simple observers. Again, be it amidst war, demolition and claim for freedom, it is in this society that God wants us to be Christians.

4. Christmas tells us that the Word of God was incarnated in our human reality, had assumed it totally, except sin, and has loved it. On his example, we accept and we love all our reality in quest for justice and peace, even on difficult paths. We accept it as a Palestinian reality: Arab, Christian and Moslem, and as a Jewish reality which we invite to cooperate with us for justice and peace. All effort towards freedom intends to reach the love of God that extends to all men and women, Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Moslems, Jews and Druzes.
This is the message of Christmas to us: to accept and love our human difficult reality, so that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, born in Bethlehem, sanctifies it, redeems it, and pours in it a new life.

5. Brothers and Sisters,
We have concluded this year the Synod of the Catholic Churches in the Holy Land: we have established a common Pastoral program. Together, we shall be able to begin, with the new millennium, a new period in the history of our Churches.
Next week, we conclude the Year of the Great Jubilee. H.H. Pope John Paul II decided to send a special Envoy to our Churches and to our political leaders, Israeli and Palestinian. He will celebrate with us the world day of peace on the 1st of January, then he will preside the closure of the Great Jubilee year on the second of January.
God allowed us to end the year of the Jubilee with trials and sufferings. For all grace, for all trial, we thank God, because suffering is also a part of the grace of the Jubilee. It helps to purify us; it allows us to see better the face of God, to better claim our freedom, since we become able to see the face of God in that of our brothers and sisters, and in the face of those from whom we claim our freedom as well.
During this year, we have welcomed the visit of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. He brought to us a message of friendship, justice, and peace. For some, it seems that this message did not give any fruit. We rather see in it the grain of corn of which, says the Gospel, it cannot give fruit unless it falls in earth and dies. The present sufferings are the time of its death and maturation.  Later on, it might bear fruits for our Christian and ecumenical life, for the inter-religious dialogue, and for the quest of justice and peace between our two peoples.

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray so that God may restore in our hearts, in our houses and in the hearts of all the inhabitants of this land the true joy of Christmas. Amen.
 

                                + Michel Sabbah
                                Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem