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O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

December 16, 2009

Following is an Advent letter from internationals working in the land of Christ's birth with various US churches.

Advent is upon us! The Church year begins anew. Advent is about yearning, anticipation, longing: "O Come, O Come Emmanuel!" we will sing and pray as we make the advent journey to Christmas. It is an exciting time for those of us living here, as people from all over the world come to experience the land of Jesus' birth. It is also a time when we are reminded that God's justice and peace has still not come to this land and its people. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

The year 2009 began with the Israeli offensive on Gaza, with 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed[1] and over 5000 Palestinians[2] and 182 Israelis[3] injured. As the year continued, hundreds of Palestinians were uprooted by home demolitions or evictions[4] and many thousands more face the threat of demolition, eviction and displacement. As the year draws to an end, we note the deepening trauma the occupation creates in the lives of the people we walk alongside. Land confiscation, settlement expansion, home demolitions, increased tension in and over Jerusalem – all central elements of the Israeli occupation - make everyday life uncertain, difficult and stressful. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Reflecting on the society into which Jesus was born, we see many similarities to life here today. The ancient Israelites were occupied and suffered at the hands of a foreign power. The Roman occupied lived freely, able to use and abuse the local population at will, while the subjugated peoples lived in constant uncertainty and anxiety, never sure how they would be treated or whether they would be singled out for random punishment. This is being repeated today for Palestinians living under the longest occupation in modern history, generally trying to live life and survive, but sometimes crossing the line into illegal and counterproductive violence, such as firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Mary caught the hopes of so many, then and now, when she sang: "God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich empty away" (Luke 2:53-54). We know that Jesus' life reflected that vision of Mary.  Christ came to earth to bring about a new reality: a Godly realm where the oppressed are lifted up; where the meek, the hungry, and the peacemakers are blessed; where all nations stand before God's penetrating gaze. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

What the Palestinian community faces, Jesus knew when he walked these stony hills. More than 2000 years later, as we reflect on this situation, we are faced with many frustrations and much distress. Those of us with ministries here are often asked by visitors how, on returning home, they can add to the momentum for justice and peace. We urge, with the World Week of Peace of the World Council of Churches that we all Pray, Educate and Advocate[5] in our communities. To support you, our friends and partners in ministry, we also share resources from our churches below.

Advent is a time for hope: a hope which can transform the life of the occupied and occupied alike; a hope which can bring a new era for all people to live in freedom and justice. In this Advent season: pray for God's justice and peace in Israel and Palestine; and find out more about the realities here by visiting or learning more from the resources of our churches. Then - well informed and sustained and encouraged through prayer – please act! Not for the sake of action: but that justice will be done, that peace will reign, that all peoples may flourish with life in fullness. That is the promise of the baby in the manger who became the risen Christ.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!  O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

Blessings and Peace this Advent-tide from those of us here in the land of Christ's birth.


[1]  B'Tselem is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The name is from Genesis 1:27 and means "in the image of," and is also used as a synonym for human dignity.  www.btselem.org/english/press_releases/20090909.asp

[2]  Red Cross/Red Crescent. www.ifrc.org/docs/news/pr09/0709.asp

[3]  "...causing severe injuries to four people, moderate injuries to 11, and light injuries to 167 others."  Amnesty International quoting the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs - www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/015/2009/en/8f299083-9a74-4853-860f-0563725e633a/mde150152009en.pdf

[4]   ICAHD, quoted on www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1014

[5]  WCC World Week of Peace in Palestine and Israel : www.oikoumene.org/events-sections/wwppi.html

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