Meditration: On the Way to Bethlehem
…give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death…guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:79
Jesus was born in Bethlehem’s darkness surrounded by Caesar’s “shadow of death.” Political forces sought to destroy the way of peace from the start. Today fear and violence still dominates this land. We sing about the peaceful town of Bethlehem and have romantic images of the village of Nazareth but seldom stop to think about the realities of the lives of the people who live in these cities today. We seldom contemplate our own participation in the violence there.
Today Mary and Joseph would have a very difficult time reaching Bethlehem. They would first go to Jenin then Nablus , Ramallah and Jerusalem. In fact, they may not reach Bethlehem at all. The roads to the West Bank and Gaza are now closed with heavily armed Israeli soldiers enforcing the roadblocks. There are huge ditches, Concrete barriers, electric fences and manned machine gun towers. Nothing enters or leaves the area without Israeli military permission.
Perhaps Mary could have had a similar experience as Fatima Nasser Abed Rabbo and her husband. They were on their way to the hospital in Bethlehem. She was only 7 months pregnant and her baby was suffering inside of her. In agony they approached the Israeli check point but the soldiers determined that her condition was not ‘critical” and denied her passage to continue to the hospital.
The time “for her to be delivered” approached and she gave birth to a son wrapped him in a cloth and laid him on a car seat. She had suffered at the checkpoint for over an hour and after her baby was born in the car it took another hour and a half to get to the hospital. Her tiny son died as a result of not getting the urgent care he needed.
Today if Joseph and Mary safely passed the check point and were seeking a room at an inn they would find many vacancies. Beautiful hotels in Palestine have been bombed or burned out by Israeli forces. The ones which remain are often vacant.
Israeli occupation of the West Bank has gone on now for 39 years. Many in Palestine are Christians, but most are Muslims and Jews. Several generations of non Jewish Palestinians have now grown up in the refugee camps. The brightly shining star in the east is most likely the familiar horror of a well armed Israeli apache helicopter paid for by Americans, many of whom profess to be Christian.
Illegal Israeli settlements are encircling the ancient city. The land is taken by force or by coercion. No one is allowed to live in these new settlements except Jews. The Bethlehem district is surrounded with concrete walls and electric fences. People are prevented from going to work and to school and the Christian sites are not easy to access. Already Rachel’s tomb is no longer the lovely site it once was but instead a fortress guarded by the army and barred to Christians and Muslims. Many Jews, Muslims and Christians want an end to the separation and violence legislated by the Israeli government and enforced by its army. Many also want the desperate Arab retaliations to end.
The route to Bethlehem is dangerous both literally and figuratively. The Shepard can no longer safely graze his flock on the hillside. The manger is empty. Jesus, Prince of peace, was born in Bethlehem but the dark fears within human hearts often choose violence. Those of us who believe in the power of peace can join together. Christians, Jews and Muslims are all calling for an end to the violence in the West Bank and Gaza.
Prayer: We pray oh God that you continue to give light to those who sit in darkness influenced by the shadow of death. Guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen.
Action: This year when you approach a nativity scene, or display your own, make it a tangible prayer for peace for all of our friends in Bethlehem.
Learn more about the militarization of the West Bank and Gaza and the role of the US government in continuing the violence there. http://www.globalexchange.org/countries/mideast/palestine/topTenReasons.html
Read about modern day Bethlehem and leave you message to end the apartheid on the wall. http://www.openbethlehem.org/about_us.asp
Keep up to date on this area which impacts the Middle East and the world.
Read what President Jimmy Carter has to say on the topic: http://www.israeliwatch.com/2006/11/25/jimmy-carter-palestine-peace-not-apartheid/