Bild: Julförberedelser i Betlehem 2022, Maria Wålsten
“The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed, to stand alongside them, just as Christ our Lord stood by the side of each poor person and each sinner, calling them to repentance, life, and the restoration of the dignity bestowed on them by God and that no one has the right to strip away.”
Kairos Palestine Document – A Moment of Truth, Chapter 3.4.1
In this 2023 Christmas Alert, Kairos Palestine points to the dire, tragic situation of the Palestinians in Gaza. It provides theological reflections and prayers to encourage deeper solidarity and more meaningful actions.
Because things are far from normal—even the so-called “normal” of a people under a brutal occupation—Palestinians are experiencing a historic Good Friday/Holy Saturday moment. Like those first disciples of Jesus, we feel helpless. We feel powerless. We feel abandoned, even by some of our friends. Gazans are bringing their children to the church to be baptized—worried that they may not make it through the genocide that Israel is imposing. On some days, our only comfort is to be found in one another and in our common realization that Jesus, too, was the victim of the occupier’s brutal violence. He was dehumanized. He was tortured. He was killed.
We hunger for the joy of the season. Our children need it.
But this year, we will not light a tree on Manger Square. Plans for our celebratory parade have been cancelled. We will, both as an act of worship and an act of resistance, gather in our churches on Christmas Eve to welcome the Word that became flesh and lives still among us, full of grace and truth.
We need you, your prayers, and your solidarity. This year, we plead with you to act in concrete ways to insist that the imperial powers create a path forward for a just peace. Then, send us word and/or pictures of the actions you have taken, the letters you have written, the sermons you’ve heard, the texts you have posted on social media… This is our appeal.
The role of the church is to defend the weak and the poor.
By Rifat Kassis
On the 1st of November 2023, appalled by the Israeli genocidal war on Gaza and the Palestinian people, representatives of Kairos Southern Africa and Kairos Palestine published an Open Letter to church leaders and Christians in the USA, Europe and the ecumenical family, questioning the silence of their churches on these war crimes and crimes against humanity. We wrote, “Most of the churches in Europe and the USA seem not to have repudiated their colonial and racist history.”
In this Christmas season, one wonders why, historically speaking, some churches align with oppressors neglecting the oppressed? Is it the intertwining of religious and political power structures? Is it because political rulers sought to co-opt religious institutions to legitimize their authority and, in turn, churches sought protection and privileges from powerful secular leaders?
Is it the theological interpretations and doctrines that have been used to allow those in power to maintain control and (mis)use religious texts to justify their oppressive systems and to suppress dissent and the weak?
Is it the fear of persecution or losing influence that churches felt compelled to align with those in power—to protect their own interests, safeguard their followers, or avoid persecution themselves—and to compromise their moral principles?
Is it because the oppressive systems are strong and widely accepted—their narratives dominating the public sphere, media and political institutions—that churches have been reluctant to challenge prevailing beliefs for fear of isolation, retribution, being labeled or denounced?
Having said this, we also need to note that while some churches have sided with oppressors and dehumanized the oppressed, many religious leaders and Christian communities have actively advocated for justice and equality and defended the rights of the poor and oppressed. For these, we in Kairos Palestine salute you, stand with you, and thank you for your costly solidarity!
Rifat Kassis has long been active in the non- violent Palestinian struggle. He founded the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International and was elected as Global President of the international movement in Geneva. He co-founded the Alternative Tourism Group, served as Executive Director of YMCA and founded the YMCA/YWCA Olive Tree Campaign. He worked also in Central Asia representing some ecumenical donor agencies and also ran WCC /EAPPI program as well as the country director of the Lutheran World federation in Jordan. He is one of the co-authors of Kairos Palestine document and its General Coordinator as well as its global coalition. He is an author and has published two books and contribution in 16 other books.
“We say, ‘Words matter.’ The words the Church uses says a lot about the Church and its response to the issues of the day. We urge our brothers and sisters not to choose words that soften the harshness of the crimes perpetrated upon Palestinian. When the Church refuses to call Israel’s laws and actions apartheid, the Church contributes to the continuation of apartheid.”
A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid: A Pressing Call to Churches Around the World, Part 5, Page 29
First Sunday of Advent
By Rev. Dr, Munther Isaac
“In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” (Luke 2:1)
Christmas celebrations are cancelled this year in Bethlehem. There will be no tree lighting, no street parades, and no festivals. It is not possible to celebrate or rejoice when our families and people in Gaza are being massacred and ethnically cleansed. This is a time of mourning. This is a time of lament. The Empire has crushed our lives, homes, hopes, and dreams.
When we consider the true meaning of Christmas, we will realize that it sits well in this context. The backdrop of the birth of Jesus according to Luke is a census by a ruthless Caesar, for the purpose of domination and taxation. The census caused a lot of disruption. The holy family was one of many that had to journey and register, otherwise they would have put themselves in danger of retaliation from Caesar’s army for “breaking the law.” As Palestinians living under apartheid, this is a very familiar experience. Permits, IDs, and magnetic cards, common vocabulary, are part of our daily experience. They are one part of the Empire’s tools for domination, segregation and control.
We watch in horror and agony as one child after another is pulled out of the rubble in the genocide in Gaza, reminding us of the ruthless massacre of the children of Bethlehem at the hand of the Empire—yet another reminder of the relevancy of the Christmas narrative.
We will not celebrate. It is hard to rejoice. We are afraid. We are broken. We are shaken. But the Christmas narrative brings God closer to us in our state of brokenness and despair. Christmas is God’s solidarity with us. Jesus is born with the occupied and oppressed. While in his mother’s womb, he took the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the demand of the Empire. While a little baby, he became a refugee when his family escaped to Egypt. Christmas is God’s solidarity with the oppressed and dehumanized. Jesus became human among the dehumanized to reclaim our humanity, dignity and worth.
Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac is a Palestinian Christian pastor, theologian, writer, speaker, blogger and, more importantly, a husband and a father. He now pastors Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and is the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College. He is also the director of the highly acclaimed and influential Christ at the Checkpoint conferences and is a board member of Kairos Palestine.
God, bless the census the world takes this Advent, day-by-day counting the loss of life and naming each victim. We pray your Spirit to move us to rise up from our mourning to actively seek justice. In the name of the One who persevered to the end, our Lord Jesus, Amen.
This week, write a letter or send an email to your elected officials, briefly describing the situation and making your own plea for a way forward to a just and lasting peace. Please copy Kairos Palestine on any correspondence (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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