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Plenty of Room at the Inn

There’s plenty of room in Bethlehem hotels this year. The usual hordes of visitors are staying away - nervous about travelling to the Holy Land. There’s no traditional Christmas tree in Manger Square in Bethlehem this year. No parades. No pilgrims. Tensions are running very high between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. One spark and serious trouble could flare.

Rev Dr Munther Ishaq, pastor of an Evangelical Lutheran church in the occupied West Bank, explained to Al Jazeera that all celebrations are off this Christmas. How can they celebrate when their brothers and sisters are caught in the savage crossfire between the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas fighters? How can they celebrate when 18 people were killed and many injured when sheltering in the oldest active church in Gaza City, the Greek Orthodox St Porphyrius?

And so instead of the traditional Nativity scene in front of their church he and his congregation have placed a figurine of a baby lying amidst fallen masonry. A baby in the rubble. Swaddled in a Palestinian chequered headdress. They wanted to find some way of showing solidarity with their fellows who are suffering so terribly in Gaza.

This unique nativity scene is not so far from the truth. Recently a baby was found alive in the rubble in Gaza. Semi-lifeless but alive. The baby had survived several weeks since the rocket strike destroyed the house where all other family members perished.

Some have objected that this is a politicization of the Christmas story. But listen to the traditional readings carefully, and it is clear that the gospel accounts themselves carry political baggage. We cannot escape them. All forms of action and inaction are in some way political. We live in societies and communities. We are political animals.

The last word goes to Rev Ishaq who by his work in a dangerous place, in Bethlehem, has surely earned the right to speak: ‘Christmas is the solidarity of God with those who are oppressed…And if Jesus is to be born again… this year, he will be born in Gaza under the rubble…Our hope is in our faith. Our hope is in our resilience. So while Christmas celebrations are cancelled, Christmas prayers are not cancelled. And when we look at the image of Jesus under the rubble, we see a light of hope and life coming out of the destruction, light coming out of death’.

So if you are at a carol service this Christmas, remember to say one for Rev Ishaq and his congregation, and so many others like them, In Bethlehem.

It is a dangerous place.... again.

Photo: Al Jazeera




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Dec 23, 2023

There could hardly be a more fitting symbol of the starkness of the Jesus story than this one. Thank you folks for bringing this to us.

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