I met an Englishwoman this week, and when I mentioned this service, she told me of her visit to Bethlehem several years ago, and her horror when she saw the wall surrounding that city. She said she can no longer see a manger scene without thinking of that wall, complete with bullet holes and graffiti.
There is a Palestinian Christian woman in Bethlehem who sells olivewood manger scenes. Each one comes with a wall running through it. The wall is removable, if you can’t quite deal with its reality.
Could Mary and Joseph even get into Bethlehem today? Their donkey would undoubtedly be stopped, examined for explosives, and probably turned away because of its subversive cargo. Today Mary would likely give birth in another cave beyond the city and outside the wall, once again forbidden home and the shelter of family. Yet that very wall is an enduring reminder of human fear and the frantic quest for safety, not unlike Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.
The babe Mary brings to light comes among us as the prince of peace, echoed in Isaiah’s promise: “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us.” The heat of fires like that could warm all new babes and their mothers, and prevent them becoming warriors when they are grown to maturity.
We yearn for the one who will decommission the warriors of every nation, who will bring lasting and eternal peace to all the peoples of the earth, who will turn weapons to warmth, and darkness to light. We yearn to be gathered like sheep in the arms of a shepherd, sheltered in a warm and tender bosom, safe from all the world’ alarms. That yearning is the yearning of the ages, shared by all sorts and conditions of human beings, all families and languages, peoples and nations.
That yearning is answered in the prince of peace, whose light shines in the darkness, whose life is the light of all peoples. We have seen his light, and the darkness does not overcome it. May that light pierce the walls of darkness and violence that separate the peoples of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. May that light enter and transform the hardened hearts of all the children of Abraham. May all the world’s walls—in the Middle East, in the Anglican Communion, in the mangers of Bethlehem, the cities of this country, and the halls of Congress—may each and every wall that shuts us off from brother and sister melt into nothingness in the heat of that transforming light.
The prince of peace is born among us. May his light and warmth fill our hearts anew this year, and bring peace in every land.
Salaam alaikum; shalom chaverim, peace be with you, my friends. May the peace of Christ reign in our hearts.