NO Christmas in Bethlehem

Gerald Butt's article, 1.12.00

From the Revd Tony Graham
Sir,
Thank you for Gerald Butt’s article about the cancelling of Christmas in
Bethlehem. Can we here go ahead now and sing of the little town lying still
and its people in their deep and dreamless sleep? The reality, of children
in the Christian villages near Jerusalem spending nights in terror and the
sky where the angels sang over the Shepherds’ Fields filled with murdering
helicopters, is agonisingly far from that. But we must pray hard and often
for the people there, and think Christianly and clearly about what is being
done to them.

This is a ‘time of trial’ for all the people of the Middle East. That is
what ‘lead us not into temptation’ means - see Mt 6:13 and 26:41, and Rev.
3:10. Keeping the faith against temptation is about ‘patient endurance’
such as is being displayed by our fellow-Christians now. In the Body of Christ
we can pray imaginatively and be one with them in the time of their trial as
they suffer destruction of their homes and their hopes.  We can find out
and proclaim the truth and so light their path to freedom (John 8:32).

This is also a time of trial for the Jewish people, as the Jewish
philosopher Marc Ellis has made so clear. Once again the people who were
supposed to walk a different path (1 Sam 8) are behaving violently like all
the other nations.  Christians need to decide what we believe about Advent,
and reject the Zionist idea that having come gently the first time around
Christ will come again in violence after some ethnic rearrangements in the
Middle East. We do no favours to people who believe differently from us
when we tolerate injustice, violence and untruth.  There is no divine sanction
for the ethnic cleansing now being performed in Palestine/Israel, and we
must say so clearly and support those of Jewish faith who stand in the
tradition of their Prophets to say so now.

Through e-mail we can know the truth as it happens and as our
fellow-Christians reflect on it. One key website is www.Sabeel.org - the
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. It would be good
if every church found someone to monitor news as it comes in and use that
as a basis for prayer; imaginative prayer placing ourselves alongside them in
their suffering, and confident prayer to strengthen our faith that we
believe not only in the Coming of Christ but also in the triumph of peace
and justice. Christian Aid’s Christmas Appeal is about prayerful
understanding and practical help based on the YMCA in Shepherds’ Fields
that will be needed by thousands of newly disabled.

At least, let us not shut out the reality as we sing carols like ‘O Little
Town’.  Rather ‘It came upon the midnight clear’ especially in its modern
version has a message of confidence and reality that makes it suitable to
dedicate to the struggle of Christians who have kept the faith since
Pentecost and now face their severest trial.

TONY GRAHAM 48 Springfield Road Crawley West Sussex RH11 8AH
tonygraham@satyagraha.fsnet.co.uk