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Sabeel Christmas Message 2014

Written by Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, President of the Board, Sabeel
December 18, 2014

Do not be afraid…” (Luke 2:10)

From a Palestinian world view, there are certain similarities between the political conditions in Palestine during the times of Jesus’ birth and the political situation in Palestine today.  There is a flagrant occupation that dominates and oppresses people; and there are words that describe what people go through: fear, insecurity, instability, suffering, grief, despair, and other negative feelings that a repressive empire and an Israeli rightwing government can produce.    

That is why the words of the angel to the shepherds in the Christmas story strike a relevant chord, “do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…”  What constituted good news for the shepherds in first century Palestine and what would constitute good news for our Palestinian people today? It is nothing less than FREEDOM AND PEACE, because both can produce a life of dignity, security, and stability to people.

In the midst of these difficult times, the implication of the Christmas message to oppressed people is basically clear:  God knows and sees the suffering of the oppressed and God is doing something not through the people of power but through the birth of a baby who ultimately holds in himself the answer to the human condition of injustice and insecurity; therefore “do not be afraid.” 

Furthermore, the angels gave the shepherds the formula for peace on earth, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.” (Luke 2:14)  This implies the need for two essential elements:  On the one hand, peace on earth is possible when people including those in positions of power are willing to humble themselves before God, love and serve others, and give God the glory and the honor.   On the other hand, Peace is possible when people cherish goodwill towards one another.  Goodwill on all sides is essential for the realization of peace.   From the Palestinian perspective one of the major obstacles to peace has been the lack of goodwill.  Throughout the Palestine-Israel conflict, there have been summits, agreements, accords, roadmaps, understandings, etc. What was lacking was goodwill on the side of Israel.   The Israeli government continuously tries to impose its will on the Palestinians rather than accepting the will of the world community and international law which the Palestinians insist upon.  Goodwill means eliminating all barriers that prevent the enhancement of the dignity and the quality of life of the other.  Goodwill means negotiating in good faith.  Peace and goodwill are possible on earth when people are willing to acknowledge God’s overall sovereignty and relish goodwill and compassion towards their fellow human beings.  It is as simple as that.  And we believe this has been initiated and proclaimed through the life and work of Jesus Christ, the savior and liberator and through his teachings about the upside-down kingdom of God and through his death and resurrection.      

But in this broken world where the powers seem to be in control, people are not willing to listen to God’s formula for peace.  The government of Israel is a case in point: it oppresses and dominates our people, steals their land, evicts them from their homes, humiliates them and denies them their most basic human and political rights.  And more recently, the proposed Israeli Nationality Law does not reflect goodwill towards the Palestinians.  However, the coming of Christ conveys the will of God whose very nature is love, compassion, and justice; and whose longing is to see the realization of peace on earth and goodwill among people.  That is why Jesus said, those who work and promote peace are God’s children. (Matthew 5:9)  

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the responsibility to be peacemakers and to promote this formula of peace and goodwill.  We need to do whatever we can to implement it.  It is an awesome responsibility but we can and must do it.  This Christmas season emboldens us and gives us a renewed incentive to double our endeavors in working for a just peace in Palestine-Israel.

Glory to God in the highest heavens, and on earth peace, goodwill among people.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New year

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