Christmas is Canceled in Bethlehem: A plea for Divine Peace and Shared Humanity among the Children of Abraham

Christ in the Rubble – Christmas Lutheran Church, Bethlehem

So this is Christmas
. But in Bethlehem — the literal cradle of Christianity, where Jesus is celebrated as being born — Christmas celebrations have been canceled.

As Axios reports, the usual festivities had been put on hold “as the war in Gaza and violence in the occupied West Bank continue to devastate Palestinian communities.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem arrived in Bethlehem on Sunday for the annual Christmas Eve procession to a quiet and subdued city. There were no marching bands, concerts, or cheering crowds. There were no Christmas lights and no tree towered over Manger’s Square as it typically does.

Instead, rubble was added to nativity scenes and the traditional festive mood Palestinian Christians have during this time turned somber as they mourn the more than 20,000 Palestinians who have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

“This Christmas is like no other Christmas … in my lifetime,” said Varsen Aghabekian, who is part of the Armenian Christian community in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. “This year, it’s a very sad time for all of us.”

The Christmas season in the region usually lasts from mid-November through the Armenian and Eastern Orthodox celebrations in January. But the heads and patriarchs of the major churches in the Holy Land issued a statement last month, calling on Christians to “stand strong” with those suffering in Gaza and the West Bank by “foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities” and focusing on the spiritual meaning of Christmas instead.”

And now, Al-Jazeera reports, “Christmas day in the occupied West Bank began with an attack on the Jenin refugee camp…” as Lisa Sharon Harper adds: “Today, Christmas Day, Israel and the United States bombed Bethlehem. The world watched as Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, Palestinian pastor of the Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, in an epic Christmas Eve sermon, asked if genocide is to be the fate of the people in Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank, as well.

Rev. Dr. Isaac concluded his sermon with these words about Christmas in the United States: ‘They send us bombs, while celebrating Christmas in their land. They sing about the prince of peace in their land, while playing the drum of war in our land.'”

How can this inversion and perversion of Christmas happen?

Expressing the situation poignantly, another Palestinian minister, Reverend Dr. Mitri Raheb, President of Dar al-Kalima University, Bethlehem, says:

“The Christmas story actually is a Palestinian story, par excellence. It talks about a family in Nazareth, in the north of Palestine, that is ordered by an imperial decree of the Romans to evacuate to Bethlehem, to go there and register. And this is exactly what our people in Gaza has been experiencing these 75 days. It talks about Mary, the pregnant woman, on the run, exactly like 50,000 women in Gaza who are actually displaced. Jesus was born actually as a refugee. There was no place at the inn for him to be born, so he was put in a manger. And this is exactly what also the kids that are coming to life these days in Gaza are experiencing. You know, most of the hospitals are damaged, out of service, and so there is no delivery places for all of these pregnant women in Gaza. And then you have the bloodthirsty Herod that ordered to kill the kids in Bethlehem to stay in power. And in Gaza, over 8,000 kids, they have been murdered for Netanyahu to stay in power.

And you have this message that the angels declared here, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on Earth,” which was actually a critique of the empire, because glory belongs to the Almighty and not to the mighty. And the peace that Jesus came to proclaim is not…the Pax Romana, the peace that is based on subjugation and military operation, but on human dignity, equality and justice. And this is actually what we call for. And I have to say I find it really a shame that in this season, where every church hears these words, “peace on Earth,” that the United States is vetoing even a ceasefire. It’s a shame.”

It’s been a hellish week amid a brutal nearly three-month siege, where hospitals, schools, mosques and shelters in Gaza are being bombed mercilessly. The vast majority of the victims have been Muslims, but recently churches and Christians have begun being targeted, too. 

Last week Reuters reported that “Pope Francis on Sunday again suggested Israel was using “terrorism” tactics in Gaza, deploring the reported killing by the Israeli military of two Christian women who had taken refuge in a church complex.

The Patriarchate said an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper killed the two women, whom the pope named as Nahida Khalil Anton and her daughter Samar, as they walked to a convent of nuns in the compound of the Holy Family Parish.

The Patriarchate statement said seven other people were shot and wounded as they tried to protect others.

“I continue to receive very grave and painful news from Gaza,” Francis said. “Unarmed civilians are the objects of bombings and shootings. And this happened even inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick or disabled, nuns.”

These haven’t been the only attacks on Christian sites. Just yesterday, Israeli forces targeted the 600-year-old Monastery of St. Mema in Deir Mimas, South Lebanon. This airstrike follows an Israeli airstrike on St. Porphyrius Greek Orothodox Church in Gaza City on October 20, where 16 deaths were reported, with many others buried under the rubble. 

Why are we in this waking nightmare, and what role do Christians in the West play? Early in this conflict, after Hamas incursions into Israel claimed 1,139 Israeli and foreign lives, my friend and peacemaker Shane Claiborne spoke online with Jer Swigart, co-founder of the Global Immersion Project, who was in Jerusalem as the violence began. 

“If ever there’s a moment that helps us understand a misunderstanding of our faith as cross-wielding versus cross-bearing,” Jer said, speaking to Christians, “It’s in moments of war. This is what happens when we fail to see the humanity, dignity and image of God in one another. This is what happens when we have policies informed by theologies that prioritize some over others.”

In many ways, these words summarize the Divine call I’ve felt on my life. It’s why I encouraged us all into a season of prayer as the Northern Hemisphere seasons changed to colder weather, to bring forth what’s been growing within us. To be fierce in our love and protection of God’s Beloved Community in all her many facets, just like the Archangel Michael.

St. Francis and the Sultan by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM


Siblinghood in a time of War

It’s why on Saint Francis’ Feast Day, just days before the current Palestine/Israel heartbreak erupted, I adapted an account from Francis and the Sultan: Men of Peace by Jan Hoeberichts, recounting this important episode from interfaith relating:

“In 1219, St. Francis and Brother Illuminato traveled to Damietta, in what is now northern Egypt, and paid a visit to the Muslim Sultan al-Malek al-Kamil. 

This was at the beginning of the Fifth Crusade, but Francis and his brothers did not make this trip as part of the battle to regain the Holy Land. Rather, they went in opposition to the mainstream theological and political orthodoxies of the time, to meet the Muslim people, and to live among them as ‘lesser brothers.’ His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about faith in Jesus, even if it meant dying as a martyr. 

Francis and his brothers went to be present among this people who were being portrayed as evil enemies of Christ. Instead, Francis found the spirit of God to be alive and at work within the Muslim people, then called ‘the Saracens.’ Francis admired their public, repeated acknowledgment of God and call to prayer, and he appreciated the deep reverence they showed to their holy book, the Qur’an.

Francis tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil.

Al-Kamil was known as a kind, generous, fair ruler. He was nephew to the great Salah al-Din. At Damietta alone he offered peace to the Crusaders five times, and, according to western accounts, treated defeated Crusaders humanely. His goal was to establish a peaceful coexistence with Christians. 

After an initial attempt by Francis and the sultan to convert the other, both quickly realized that the other already knew and loved God. Francis and Illuminato remained with al-Kamil – and his Sufi teacher Fakhr ad-din al-Farisi – for twenty days, discussing prayer and the mystical life. 

While the trend of the time (and sadly, still today) was for Christian preachers to deliver strident, inflammatory sermons against Islam, Francis forbade his brothers to take part in these exercises. He demanded that his brothers be present first and foremost, living with and among the Saracens. They were to preach only if they felt that it would ‘please the Lord.’ 

Francis worked to prevent the brotherhood from becoming embroiled in the grasp for civil and ecclesiastical offices and power, and kept the community’s focus on serving their neighbors for the glory of God only.

When Francis finally departed the Damiettan court, al-Kamil gave him an ivory trumpet, which is still preserved in the crypt of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi.”

Reflecting on this story, I asked out loud: 

“Can we go and do what Francis did, together? May we lead with presence, compassion, and curiosity as we discover God’s delight in people and places which might initially fill us with surprise?”

Little did I know how urgent these questions would become.

A Shared Legacy of Trauma

In Jer’s conversation with Shane, sirens blaring in the background near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jer continued:

“This [tragedy] is deepening my resolve to wage peace with every ounce of my being, and to spend as much of my life collaborating across creeds and traditions with reconcilers. It’s strengthening my resolve to raise up communities of people who are willing to give up our lives for the sake of others. We’re not going to survive as a global community unless we start to think differently about the way that we treat each other.”

Then Jer got to the part that landed like a punch to my gut: 

“The fact of the matter is with this particular conflict, USAmerican Christians are intimately involved in this. This is not a thing that’s just happening somewhere; our faith has been weaponized to fuel this. This is a wake-up call to us…blood is on our hands, here. It’s time for us to really soften our certainty, to do some deep lament, repentance and actually figure out how to live better.”

Jer’s and the Global Immersion Team in Jerusalem met with a Rabbi friend, who interpreted generational Jewish pain and contemporary Israeli action like this: “What you’re seeing right now is the fusion of trauma and power. This is what happens when we have undealt-with trauma and suddenly we find ourselves in power. We don’t know how to exercise it on behalf of another.” 

Shane agreed, building on the painful parallel to aspiring friends and followers of Jesus: 

“It runs so deep. I was thinking of our own history in the Christian church. [Sometimes we begin telling the story] when Constantine took up the sword and made Christianity the official religion of Rome and began persecuting non-Christians…the fact is that a lot of this history is similar. There were 300 years of persecution; many Christians had gotten tired of getting killed and tortured, and that temptation to power — the proximity to power, the ability to then take power and use it, not just to defend themselves, but to persecute people on the other side. To do the very things that were done unto them — that’s exactly what Christians did. They burned pagan temples, they burned books, they killed people, all exchanging the cross for the sword. Our history also knows this untreated trauma leading to violence.”

With those words ringing in my heart, Jesus’ well-known utterance from the Lord’s Prayer struck a cord of yearning and sorrow:

“Your Kin-dom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven…Forgive us of our debts, even as we forgive our debtors.”

And by the time I prayed the Eastern Christian refrain “Holy God, Holy the Firm, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us,” I wept with recognition: Shane was right. 

Christianity may have begun as something Jesus would see a family resemblance to  — a subversive movement of Way-farers living lives of scandalous hospitality and transfigured love. But within generations, State-sponsored iterations of our faith became the very thing Jesus — in his living, feeding, healing, teaching, dying, and indwelling, resurrected life — opposed. 

In addition to persecuting non-State-aligned Christian movements (beginning with the execution of Priscillian of Avila in 385 and reaching a bloody crescendo in the Cathar Genocide or Albigensian Crusade waged for 20 years beginning 1209), Empire-backed Christians launched Inquisitions against practitioners of earth-based spirituality (aka ‘witchcraft’) and other deemed heresies within and outside the Church. Misreadings of early intra-Jewish polemics in the New Testament fueled forced conversions, land grabs and mandatory relocations against Jewish people in various locales across Europe, and later, increased tensions with neighboring Muslim nations led to all-out “holy” war in escalating Crusades

It’s too much to explore thoroughly here, but the transition of many Christians from overtly disdaining Jewish people — blaming Jewish people for Jesus’ crucifixion and ‘stubbornly’ rejecting him as their Messiah — to the adoption of novel end-times views beginning in the mid-1800s that required a rebirth of a physical nation called “Israel” in order for their fiery battle of Armageddon to occur in its proper setting, was an exchange of one kind of anti-Semitism for another. 

The new dehumanization of Jewish folks masquerading as Zionist “support” is subtle to the un-initiated;  Christian Zionism only wants Jews — and a Jewish homeland — for their supposed world-ending, apocalyptic flourish. Adding insult to very real injury, Evangelical Christians became a convenient foil for more old-guard Christendom Europeans to offload Jewish populations to the newly-formed State in 1947 instead of grappling with true integration in their existing nations, displacing Palestinians who had lived there for generations. American and British Evangelicalism with their idiosyncratic end-times views continue to fund Israel’s military budget to the tune of billions of dollars per year, while no military atrocity is too gruesome. As conservative commentator David French put it in the National Review:

“The political marriage between American Evangelicals and Israelis represents a cynical form of mutual exploitation. Evangelicals support Israel to hasten the apocalypse, while Israelis (who obviously don’t believe Christian eschatology) are happy to humor the Evangelical community and milk that support for tourist dollars and political power.”

The Marriage of Sensitivity and Action

Michael McRay is no stranger to this paradoxical cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that we call the “Holy Land,” having led tours of dialogue, peacemaking, and storytelling there for years. Writing a week after these atrocities began, he put it this way [I’ve updated statistics in brackets]: 

“The terror and murders that Hamas inflicted on southern Israel has rightly outraged the world. Condemnations have poured out of Hamas’ killing of more than [1,139] Israeli lives and the kidnapping of over 100 people. Words and actions of support have been absolutely appropriate for those Israeli families and for all Jewish people globally who feel a powerfully activating fear of anti-Semitic violence.

At the very same time, I’ve been horrified not only by Israel’s catastrophic bombing of Gaza but by the abysmal lack of global condemnation. If a moral compass has compassion only for the deaths of either Israelis or Palestinians, I believe that moral compass is broken. All the killing should grieve us. 

And even while holding these truths, it’s also true that Hamas is not the military of a powerful nation-state. They have no tanks, no planes, no nuclear bombs, no U.S weaponry, nor Israeli tech. Israel, however, is one of the most powerful militaries in the world, a nuclear power, and backed unequivocally by the United States. The power imbalance is extreme, undeniable, and will lead to unparalleled destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza. Israel has the real capacity to completely level Gaza…

Most people will grant that a country has the right to defend itself against attack. And yet, there must be limits to the retaliation. Since Hamas’ murderous assault on Israelis, Israel has launched its most devastating bombardment of Gaza in history. Over [20,000] are reported dead. At least [8,000] children have died. [8,000]. Over [53,000] people are injured. Hospitals have been decimated. Israel shut off electricity, gas, food, and water, and now Gaza’s biggest hospital is about to run out of fuel, which will mean the deaths of so many more. The Israeli defense minister said on television there would be a “complete siege” to destroy those “animals.” Several of the activists and journalists I follow in Gaza have posted preemptive goodbye messages, anticipating they may die soon. One of them even died in a bomb while filming a live video. One of my Palestinian Facebook friends posted two days ago that she just learned that a dozen members of her family had been killed in Gaza. 

My Instagram feed is truly filled with dozens of videos of parents holding their dead and dying children in Gaza, digging them out from the rubble of their bombed homes…

Misinformation has been spreading like wildfire, as is happening more and more regularly these days through social media. Most notably is the unsubstantiated claim that Hamas was beheading children. Multiple news outlets now, from CNN to New York Times, and even the Israeli military have said no verified evidence of this has been found. And yet this claim was even spread by President Biden himself who said he saw photos of these beheaded children. His staff had to immediately walk his comments back.   

Let me again be clear: I do not support the killing Hamas has done, the terror they’ve inflicted on Israelis, and the brutal execution threats they’ve made against the lives of their hostages. I am not defending Hamas or what they did in Israel. While I stand firm in my support for Palestinian independence and liberation from Israel’s control, and even while international law and most people’s ethics allow for violent resistance to illegal occupation and oppression, I simply cannot condone Hamas’ actions. My sense of humanity and my care for Israeli and Jewish people won’t let me.  

And I am also clear that Israel has been well-documented committing these same atrocities to Palestinians for years: kidnapping Palestinians and holding them in administrative detention, murdering civilians regularly, executing unarmed Palestinians as they lie on the ground, launching unexpected military operations in Palestinian towns and cities, destroying homes, and more. Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians are widely known and far less widely condemned. Is it any less an atrocity if it’s done by a military than a militant group?

Again, I believe it is a broken moral compass that claims [1,139] Israelis deserved to die because of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. And it is also a broken moral compass that says that Hamas’ atrocities in Israel warrant the deaths of now [20,000] Palestinians (with many more to come), at least [8,000] of them kids, and displacement of [1.9 million]+ people and counting. 

This is a catastrophe of epic proportions unfolding in Gaza before our eyes…The complete destruction of Gaza is all too possible.

I have studied conflicts long enough to know that one of the first casualties of conflict is nuance. And this is true here too. When fear and anger get activated, it is natural to locate the threat and put all our energy into eliminating it. Nuance and complexity feel too risky. This is evolutionarily wired into us. And yet, friends, we have to work against this. I’m witnessing a social media world that is demonstrating little to no ability to hold multiple truths at the same time.

We simply must be able to both condemn Hamas’ murders and the kidnapping of Israeli families and civilians, and at the exact same time demand with clear conviction that Israel end its mission to destroy Gaza, cease killing Palestinian civilians, and dismantle its longstanding illegal, immoral occupation of Palestine. 

  • Condemning Hamas’ violence does not equate to being anti-Palestinian. 
  • Condemning Israel’s violence does not equate to being anti-Jewish. 
  • Supporting Palestinian liberation does not mean you have to defend murdering families in their homes. 
  • Supporting the right of Israel to exist does not mean you have to defend carpet bombing Gaza and occupying Palestinians for 60 years.  

I refuse to let my morality force me into grief and outrage for only one people, and I also refuse to let the complexity of the situation prevent me from naming injustice, immorality, and atrocities when they are clear. We have to hold the nuance of it without being muted by it.

What we are seeing now is only the beginning.”

Unlocking the Wisdom of the Heart

So if we don’t sacrifice nuance…if we seek to have tenacious compassion for all the players in this drama…what is our “master key” to wisdom?

At the risk of oversimplifying this horrific situation with roots that extend thousands of years into oure past, it seems that the heart of this symbiotic relationship between the sickest expressions of nationalized Judaism and Christianity beats deeply with trauma

As Jewish Holocaust survivor and celebrated therapist Dr. Gabor Mate puts it:

“In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the  perpetrators. ‘They don’t care about life,’ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the [American and Canadian politicians] of this world, ‘we do.’ Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood…

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth.

I have visited Gaza and the West Bank. I saw multi-generational Palestinian families weeping in hospitals around the bedsides of their wounded, at the graves of their dead. These are not people who do not care about life. They are like us — Canadians, Jews, like anyone: they celebrate life, family, work, education, food, peace, joy. And they are capable of hatred, they can harbour vengeance in the hearts, just like we can.

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, ‘a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.’

‘People’s leaders have been misleaders, so they that are led have been confused,’ in the words of the prophet Jeremiah. The voices of justice and sanity are not heeded. Netanyahu has his reasons. [Canadian and American politicians] have theirs.

And what shall we do, we ordinary people? I pray we can listen to our hearts. My heart tells me that ‘never again’ is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives.”

Please watch this video to hear Gabor elaborate on his life experiences and perspective: 


Magnificat and the Birth Pangs of the New

Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem, but even now Mary is in birth pangs to rebirth the Body of Christ in our midst. Can you hear her voice afresh, singing as she did upon learning of her sacred charge?

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
God has looked with favor on the low status of God’s servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the Mighty One has done great things for me.

Holy is the Name.
God shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors God as God.

God has shown strength with a mighty arm.
God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.

God has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
God has come to the aid of God’s servant Israel,
remembering Divine mercy,
just as was promised to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his descendants forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55)

In Mary’s exultant cry, Israel is shown mercy. But it’s a mercy accompanying what Christian social teaching namesGod’s preferential option for the poor,” and is dependent on honoring “God as God,” which surely includes the Hebrew prophetic calling from Micah 6:8: 

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good,
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?”

God’s liberating presence extends to Abraham and all his descendants, which include Isaac and Ishmael. And – according to the first-century Jewish apostle Paul’s sprawling, universalist, mixed-metaphor letter to the Romans – non-Semitic Gentiles become God’s invited, grafted-in guests.  

So we’re all in this together. The contractions of God’s birth in our midst can be felt by all of Abraham’s children, whether natural-born or adopted. As Rhineland mystic Meister Eckhart asked nearly 1,000 years ago:

“What is my name?
What is your name?
What is God’s name?

Our name is: That we must be born.
The Creator’s name is: To bear.
The soul alone among all creation is generative like God is. We are all meant to be mothers of God.

What good is it for me that Christ was born a thousand years ago in Bethlehem, if he is not born today in our own time?”

How can we birth Christ in our own time, through our own hearts, delivering a just peace as Micah and Meister Eckhart, Mary and Mr. Mate encourage us? 

Christ in the Rubble by Kelly Latimore –

Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac speaks powerfully to this question in his Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem address two days ago. His answer is incarnational solidarity as God expresses radical solidarity with us

“In our pain, anguish, and lament, we have searched for God, and found him under the rubble in Gaza. Jesus became the victim of the very same violence of the Empire. He was tortured. Crucified. He bled out as others watched. He was killed and cried out in pain – My God, where are you? 

In Gaza today, God is under the rubble. 

And in this Christmas season, as we search for Jesus, he is to be found not on the side of Rome, but our side of the wall. In a cave, with a simple family. Vulnerable. Barely, and miraculously surviving a massacre. Among a refugee family. This is where Jesus is found. 

If Jesus were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble in Gaza. When we glorify pride and richness, Jesus is under the rubble… 

When we rely on power, might, and weapons, Jesus is under the rubble… 

When we justify, rationalize, and theologize the bombing of children, Jesus is under the rubble… 

Jesus is under the rubble. This is his manger. He is at home with the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed, and displaced. This is his manger. 

I have been looking, contemplating on this iconic image…. God with us, precisely in this way. THIS is the incarnation. Messy. Bloody. Poverty. 

This child is our hope and inspiration. We look and see him in every child killed and pulled from under the rubble. While the world continues to reject the children of Gaza, Jesus says: “just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.” 

“You did to ME.” Jesus not only calls them his own, he is them! 

We look at the holy family and see them in every family displaced and wandering, now homeless in despair. While the world discusses the fate of the people of Gaza as if they are unwanted boxes in a garage, God in the Christmas narrative shares in their fate; He walks with them and calls them his own. 

This manger is about resilience – صمود. The resilience of Jesus is in his meekness; weakness, and vulnerability. The majesty of the incarnation lies in its solidarity with the marginalized. Resilience because this very same child, rose up from the midst of pain, destruction, darkness and death to challenge Empires; to speak truth to power and deliver an everlasting victory over death and darkness.” (To watch his entire address, tune in here…)


What We Can Do to Host Peace Today

Taking practical action can feel hopeless, especially if you’re thousands of miles away from Israel, Gaza or the West Bank as you’re reading this. But I invite you to not close your God-bearing heart. Here are three steps you can take today…even during Christmas. 

Prayerfully consider direct actions in your neighborhood. The war machine is fueled by nearly every community in the West, sadly. Find defense contractors in your area, and let them know how you feel about their enabling the ongoing atrocities and war crimes in Israel and Palestine.

Contact your member of Congress and call for an immediate cease-fire.

As the American Friends Service Committee reports, “Popular opinion polls show a majority of people in the U.S. favor of a cease-fire. Millions have joined protests around the globe. Yet only a few members of Congress have publicly called for a cease-fire. Our elected officials must keep hearing from us. Take a few minutes today to call your representative using this online form. Then, send them an email.”

Participating in rallies, marches and vigils. This is a potent means of finding local community and standing in solidarity for a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. Check your local community bulletin boards and social media for gatherings happening near you, and check out this upcoming calendar. If you don’t see any happening, consider organizing one.

Write a letter to your local newspaper editor. The AFSC continues, suggesting: “This is an effective way to show support for Gaza, counter harmful media narratives about what’s happening, and add context that news outlets often miss out on. Use these letter-writing tips.

Hold corporations accountable for their role in violating the rights of Palestinians in Gaza. This war is enabled by the U.S. military industrial complex, as was the case with Israel’s previous attacks on Gaza. This list includes some of the companies profiting from the 2023 Israeli attacks on Gaza.”

Contribute and volunteer with to on-the-ground peacemaking and aid organizations. Here’s a list of organizations – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Interfaith, and Secular – who come personally recommended for doing excellent work:

Doctors Without Borders
Jewish Voices for Peace
Dror Israel
Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
Muslim Aid USA
Shepherd Society
Churches for Middle East Peace
Community Peacemaker Teams
Red Letter Christians
Amos Trust
Healing Haunted Histories
American Friends Service Committee
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Keep Educating Yourself and Your Community

Here are selections to help you dive deeper in understanding…

Podcasts, Videos, &  Articles:

Understanding Israel and Palestine | The New Evangelicals
What does love have to say at a time of war? | Omid Safi
Antisemitism has been confusing for 2,500 years | Jay Michaelson
A Jerusalem of My Home: Seeking a Liturgy of the Wild | Martin Shaw


Many of these recommendations come courtesy of Hearts and Minds Books, where you can order them.

Decolonizing Palestine: The Land, The People, The Bible by Mitri Raheb
Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes by Mitri Raheb
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth E. Bailey
Who Cares About the Middle East? S. T. Kimbrough Jr.
The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope by Kelley Nikondeha
Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Walter Brueggemann
Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future by Alain App Weaver
The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 by Rashid Khalidi

Christ at the Checkpoint: Blessed are the Peacemakers edited by Manfred Kohl and Munther Isaac
Arabs and Israelis: Conflict and Peacemaking in the Middle East by Abdel Monem Said Aly, Shai Feldman, Khalil Shikaki
Gaza: An Inquest Into Its Martyrdom by Norman Finkelstein

The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope by Munther Isaac, Neil Shah, et al.
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappé

Zionism Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land edited by Carole Monica Burnett
A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land edited by Mae Elise Cannon
The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets by Janine Di Giovanni 

News & Perspective:

Democracy Now
Al Jazeera
Jewish Currents
Building the Bridge

Share this reflection. If you’ve found my overview here helpful, please share it – email it, post it on social media, preach it (if you’re a minister), and prayerfully consider bringing it up at your holiday gatherings through New Year. I’ve been working on this since early October, and want the education, inspiration, and action steps to reach as many people as possible. I firmly believe we can move the needle and ensure peace, abundance, and reconciliation Jewish and Palestinian folks if people of faith, hope, and love continue speaking out.  If you’re reading this because a loved one shared it with you, please stay in touch with me here to make sure you don’t miss upcoming reflections. Thank you so much for reading this through the end! 

2 Responses to Christmas is Canceled in Bethlehem: A plea for Divine Peace and Shared Humanity among the Children of Abraham

  1. Rev. Dr. Richard Zeile December 25, 2023 at 2:06 pm #

    I am trying to appreciate the viewpoint expressed in this article. I suppose the world may be compared to a really dirty house where every room you happen to be in seems to require cleaning. This article’s perspective is that of the “Gaza room,” and despite the much-needed emphasis on complex truths and our need to balance considerations, the bottom line is to accept the moral judgements against Netanyahu, American Evangelicals who support Israel for eschatological reasons, and Americans who don’t demand a ceasefire. I find the author (or at least some of those he quotes) to enamored of a view of justice that over sensitive on some points and insensitive on others. Thus we affirm our solidarity with those in Gaza now without noting their complicity in the political program (Hamas, etc.) which instigated the disaster. I am not saying that they deserve this tragedy, any more than a distracted driver deserves an accident, but it IS a factor neglected in the article. As to other rooms that may need cleaning or at least moral acknowledgment, the Western, specifically America moral indifference to the death of innocent life deserves attention. Consider these facts gleaned from the Guttmacher Institute-
    About 930,160 legally induced abortions are provided annually in the U.S.
    20.6% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion.
    61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal all or most of the time.
    The top reason for abortion (25%) is not being ready for a child, <0.5% victim of rape.
    The denial of reality, that sex leads to babies, leads people to imagine (even demand as a right, "justice for women") that sex outside of monogamy is worth the ending of the human life generated. This is 46 times the human slaughter occurring in Gaza, and many wonder why we are so indifferent to slaughter overseas when we have institutionalized it at home.
    Every age and culture has its moral blind spots as when as its sensitivities. The present writer is no different.

  2. Debra D Elramey December 30, 2023 at 5:28 pm #

    Dear Mike,

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing forth the unvarnished truth. This article is a keeper, one I will return to and share as long as the genocide continues. It’s the truest message and most in depth analysis I’ve yet read.

    Most disturbing to me here in America is the mass deception, the number of Christians who swallow the Zionist poison, who believe the delusion. Who unwittingly follow the opposite force of the Prince of Peace.

    Never have I witnessed such a dualistic mindset, as most of my fellow Christians around me are displaying, almost obsessing over – and even rejoicing – that the “Amalekites” are being annihilated – every man, woman, child and donkey.

    This is deeply disturbing to me and I am broken in spirit over what I’m seeing. It’s also a helpless feeling to know that our leaders will most likely pay us no mind. Because world leaders in that region are fearful of annihilation themselves by the same forces seeking to destroy their own neighbors.

    One recent night I had a dream, which I know isn’t literal, but I do know it reveals the heart of Christ. I’ve titled the dream, A Peace Agreement. In this dream I go to a foreign land to negotiate a peace settlement and bring peace offerings. The leader of that nation is a woman.
    I don’t recall which nation it is, whether India or Indonesia or where, but she wore the garb of an Indian woman with a cloth banner draped across her bodice.

    The two of us came up with a peace treaty and she went to a faraway land, a hot spot of war as a diplomat. She had a real talent for assuaging conflict.

    Then I saw a vision of wine glasses celebrating the peace agreement. At least there was a ceasefire for one more day, war called off for one more season.

    Perhaps our continued intercessions for the oppressed are our best offerings. May the Prince of Peace come quickly and execute righteousness and justice in this matter at hand. Or give courage to the fearful, that they take action. My prayers also go out to those who are aiming to make a difference, those on the front lines of this battle, some whom you mention here at the end of your post.

    Love and peace to you, Mike, and gratitude for your labor of love which is never in vain.

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