“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie”, many of us will sing sometime over the next few days. How true was it 2000 years ago under Roman occupation? A very good question. It is certainly not the case in Bethlehem today, host of three Palestinian refugee camps, and divided from Israel by the wall built in 2002 by the Israeli government. This past week I came across a contemporary version of the carol:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
A wall is laid where tourists stayed
And people can’t go by;
And in thy dark streets shineth
An omnipresent light;
The searchlights’ glare is everywhere
And does not fail tonight.
How silently, how silently,
The world regards it all,
As now thy heart is torn apart
By Israel’s ghetto wall;
They terrorise a people,
A war-crime and a sin;
Their winding “fence” can make no sense;
Revenge can still get in.
O ye who now rule Bethlehem,
Cast down the iron cage,
The walls of hate that separate
And harden and enrage;
The land-grab and apartheid,
This violence must cease,
If there’s to be a land that’s free,
A Bethlehem at peace.
I was all the more dismayed then on Friday morning to read that President Trump cites the success of this Israeli wall as a justification for his desired wall between Mexico and the United States. While we live in a world of dividing walls and barricades, look at what the Letter to the Ephesians [2.14] has to say about the one whose birth we are about to celebrate: “Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
A Christmas challenge: how may we, each of us and together, be effective signs of this peace of Christ? What are the barriers and dividing walls, around and between us, visible and invisible, and how may we break them down?
May the joy and peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas.