Bethlehem

I think I am re-entering normal life with some dignity after my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  My laundry is done, my bills are sent, my kitchen is cleaned. I am reasonably ready for Christmas, with most details taken care of. And while I am not over jet lag, I don’t think it is dangerous for me to be behind the wheel of a car.

I wrote my Christmas morning sermon this morning. Not a bad effort, filled with a good mix of archeology and hope and personal responsibility. You know, it’s Christmas. You want to be peaceful and hopeful and celebratory. So I tried to write something to that effect.

But I am haunted by something that I chose not to mention. Bethlehem. The scene of the birth of our Savior, of the shepherds in the field and away in the manger is surrounded by a wall. It is a wall built for political reasons, and keeps the people of that town essentially in prison. There is a house that is surrounded on 3 sides by the wall. To enter or leave the city you have to pass through a checkpoint, and armed soldiers determine if you go or not.

You see, the thing I am not ready to preach about yet is occupation. There are people in Israel who are not free. And if anything helped me to understand better the life of Jesus and the disciples, it was this experience of occupation, listening to the voices of those who are not free but long for freedom, who are not treated fairly but long for justice.

I do not live that way. I am reasonably free. I can mostly say what I want. I can come and go without restraint in my own country. But Jesus could not. And neither can the people of Bethlehem. I am not yet sure what to do with that, how I will preach it, or what will come of my efforts. But I had to say it, to acknowledge the fact. Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall, and this reality changed me.

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