Christmas in a time of conflict

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The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church Bethlehem has a stark nativity scene with an infant Jesus surrounded by rubble to depict the devastation in Gaza while a light shines in hope there will be peace. Photo: Fr Munther Isaac

In 2018, my wife, Laurie, and I visited Bethlehem, the town in Israel where Jesus was born. Usually, Bethlehem hosts hundreds of thousands of people from around the world who come to celebrate Jesus’ birth at the Church of the Nativity. Bethlehem is actually located on the other side of a massive security wall built along the border of Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Bethlehem is a Palestinian town.

The nation of Israel and the Palestinian people have been in conflict since the nation of Israel was created in 1948. Truth is that the people of Israel and the Palestinian people have been in conflict for thousands of years. The conflict is felt especially this year as the nation of Israel is at war with Hamas, the governing authority in Palestinian Gaza. Though Gaza and the West Bank are two different places with different governing authorities, the conflict felt in Gaza is also felt in the West Bank. Bethlehem is in a time of conflict.

As throughout history, war has become the tool again to resolve this current conflict. War is a violent tool that creates more conflict than it resolves. War is not the kind of tool that mends wounds or brings people together to work on shared issues. It kills, destroys and separates people from each other. It doesn’t bring justice; it doesn’t bring hope. War doesn’t bring peace.

This year there will be no celebration or festivities in Bethlehem. Just tears and prayers for peace. Was it any different when Jesus was born? Not much. The town was occupied then, too, and the ruler, King Herod, was ruthless in his use of power and violence. We might ask if Jesus made any difference. He did come as the Prince of Peace, after all.

Jesus has made all the difference. He established a new kingdom, a heavenly kingdom on earth. He did it by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world and rising to new and everlasting life. Anyone who puts their trust in Jesus finds true hope. His kingdom is made up of people who trust him, and so Jesus makes all the difference through his followers, too. We bring hope to all we meet as we live for Jesus and share his good news. We bring his peace. We are not in this world to grasp for land or rights or vengeance. We are in this world to reconcile people to God and with each other as we love with the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Few will be able to worship or shine the light of Christ in Bethlehem this year. Thankfully we can shine his light wherever we are. So, if you live amidst conflict or feel the pain of the conflict that others are facing, pray for peace. Speak peace. And work for peace by the power of the Prince of Peace living within you. And pray for peace to come to everyone living in the land of Jesus’ birth.

This essay was originally published in the NLC Connect Dec. 13, 2023 newsletter. 

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