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Christmas Message 2023

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“In Christ, Life with Dignity”
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan
“In Christ was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
In their statement on the celebration of Advent and Christmas during this time of war, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem called upon their congregations and believers to stand strong in this difficult time and pleaded with them to concentrate on prayer and worship, and to avoid any unnecessarily festive activities. This plea was heard and has been followed by believers both in Jordan and in Palestine.
This statement from our Christian leaders was written because churches are an integral part of the fabric of our societies. Regardless of religious identity, here in the Holy Land the joys of our neighbors are our joys, the sorrow of our neighbors is our sorrow, and the aspirations of our neighbors are also ours. For this reason, during this time of war and in this awful spiral of violence, our Christian leaders have encouraged their people to concentrate on the deeper meaning of Christmas and to dedicate this time to prayer, not to parties. And for what do we pray? We pray for the immediate cessation of war and suffering, as well as the long-overdue birth of justice and peace for all people.
We find a similar situation in Psalm 137. The people in exile were asked to sing. They answered, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4) How can we sing the Lord’s song in such a dire political situation? By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept.” They wept over so many loved ones, including women and children. They wept over the loss of almost everything they owned. They wept over a future which looked bleak. In the same way, this Christmas our prayers will include tears for the loss of every life, and we will ask the baby born in Bethlehem for mercy, strength, and steadfastness in the faith.
Different from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Gospel of John begins not at Jesus’ conception or cradle, but at the conception of the cosmos. No angels, no swaddling clothes, and no sheep to deflect attention from the essential point. God, through whom the world was created, the One who gives life and light to all people, became human. God lived among us, suffered like us, breathed the same air as us, and died among us. In this one human being, God’s one glory shone with life-giving light. “In Christ was light, and life was the light of all people.” This means that the babe of Bethlehem is the source of all life (John 5:21 & 11:25) because from all eternity, God has possessed eternal life.
Jesus, the Word of God, not only was born into life, but is also the source of life, for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) Life became manifest among us in the Incarnation, and that same life gives the light of revelation. Therefore, the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem has gifted us with a deeper understanding of the sanctity of life. Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to join the feast of life.
Amid the ongoing war and violence in Gaza, Christ Incarnate reveals to us the sanctity of every life, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, political or denominational affiliation. War turns precious human lives into mere numbers. Jesus, even from the manger, emphatically assures us that every human has the image of God imprinted upon them. Every human therefore has equal worth and deserves equal dignity. God loves each one of us equally, as it is written: “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten son.” (John 3:16) And also: “I have come that you may have life, and life abundant.” (John 10:10)
It is God’s will that all may live with full dignity and full freedom. No one has the right to take away another’s God-given humanity, whether they are friend or foe, whether they share the same or different political or religious beliefs, whether they speak the same language or live on opposite sides of a border. It is our call, as children of God, to insist and ensure that every person has the right to live in safety, security, and dignity, for again, “In Christ was life, and life was the light of all people.”
This year we especially remember that Jesus was born in an unsettled political situation and under occupation. The whole world was available, and yet Jesus did not find any better place to be born than in a stable in Bethlehem. This is a reminder that even in the lowest places on earth, even the most troubled places, even amidrubble, there must be sanctity of life. A person living under oppression and suffering discrimination, who can only hope for freedom, is just as holy and sacred as one born into comfort and privilege.
The war in Gaza has opened Pandora’s Box. Some mistakenly consider the war a religious conflict. I want to assure you that this is not a religious war. Religious people have known for a long time how to live together in harmony in our Holy Land.
Others have interpreted the Bible to see this war as eschatological and even apocalyptic. Those how hold this view, even if they call themselves Christians, have failed to see the light from the manger in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus has revealed again and again that God is love, and this God would never use human life or human suffering for evil. Jesus himself is the fulfillment of prophecy, not some imaginary apocalyptic nightmare.
Still others are calling the war in Gaza a “just war”. Frankly, I don’t believe there is a war that is just. We in the Holy Land do not need a just war, we need a just peace. We need no more weapons, oppression, hostilities, attacks, statements, or denial of human rights. Justice and only justice is our desire and our demand, so that the light of life we know through Christ will be for all people.
The American theologian Joseph Sittler wrote in his book “Gravity and Grace”:
“Our neighbors in the biblical sense are those persons who live in God’s creation with us in solidary of our life together on this earth. In the broad context of human solidarity, the exercise of love is realized in trans-affectional justice.”
These words challenge Christians and churches all around the world. How can we carry the light of love and justice in our world, especially here in this place, at this time? What is clear is that the birth of this one baby calls us to speak a word: a word that champions freedom, promotes responsibilities, encourages justice inspires hope, makes room for mercy, and calls for accountability.
And so, from the Holy Land, we call on Christians everywhere to actively work for the immediate cessation of war. On 15 December 2023 Pope Francis implored, “May the killing of children touch the hearts of those who can stop the war.” We ask for more humanitarian aid and we want the world leaders to know that peace with justice is still possible in the Holy Land. In fact, if the war could cease now, this could be a Kairos moment when we serious peace talks can finally happen. This is a time to realize the end game for the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We need international support for this. It is beyond time for justice and liberation for all people in the Holy Land.
From Jerusalem, I ask you this Christmas to light a candle for the victims, the bereaved, the injured, the traumatized, the prisoners of war, the displaced, those whose homes have been destroyed, for the Palestinian Christian community, and especially for the children.
Pray that Jesus, the babe born in Bethlehem, will reach the minds and hearts of politicians and world leaders who have the influence and authority to end this war. We trust in the vision of St. John, who wrote that “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
This year, I join the shepherds of Beit Sahour, kneeling with them in front of the Jesus in the manger. Will you join me in prayer?
Dear God, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, our land is stricken by the darkness of sin, the darkness of hatred, the darkness of dehumanization and polarization, the darkness of oppression and occupation, the darkness of revenge and counter revenge and the darkness of denial of human rights.
I plea to you my Lord, as an Arab Palestinian Christan living through this darkness, and I cry from the bottom of my heart:
— let this be enough violence and killing of those made in God’s image — let this be enough hatred
— let this be enough abuse of religion for political agendas
— let this be enough of illegal occupation and settlements
— let this be enough bloodshed
— let this be enough war.
Grant us courage and strength and empower us to become answers to our prayers. Send us your light, the light of love, mercy, and liberation, that we would become beacons of light for the whole world. Grant us this, our Creator, so that we may confidently proclaim along with your Son:
Life is stronger than killing and death!
Justice is stronger than war and atrocities! Peace is stronger than animosity and discrimination! Love is stronger than hatred and dehumanization!
God of all humanity, let our humble, prayerful, celebrations of the birth of your Son Jesus reinvigorate our commitment to the sanctity of life, for you have come to give us life and life in abundance.
Amen.
A peaceful Christmas
And
A Blessed New Year 2024 Praying for peace justice, and harmony..!

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