On Monday, December 15, Palestinian children gathered around a Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity. Just days before Christmas, these men, women, and children gathered in Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Though the Christmas tree was a 32-foot high cypress rather than a pine, and though the carols were in another tongue, surely few other Christmas celebrations were as authentic and true to the source on that Monday evening. (Israel News Agency)
This little town of Bethlehem is as divided now as it was some 2000 years ago when Jesus was born in a manger bed. Back then there were zealots and Samaritans, Pharisees and Sadducees, Romans and Greeks; today there are Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Sunnis and Shiites and Christians. Mayor Victor Batarseh spoke at the lighting of the Bethlehem Christmas tree, hoping that “…the star that led the three wise men to Bethlehem will lead the great powers and brighten their way toward genuine peace.” Closer to home, a wall is being built between North and Mesoamerica as I write this, cutting through the heart of El Paso, Brownsville, and San Diego. Around the world, walls are being built between nations even as globalization frees up fungible goods. We are fast approaching a time when goods can travel across national boundaries but people cannot leave their homes, when products possess more rights than people and exports are more respected than immigrants. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw it coming when he said our science “…made of this world a neighborhood and yet…we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood.”
It is abundantly clear this Christmas that the modern concept of nation-states, barely more than a hundred years old, creates refugees, suppresses the movement of people, and too often aids in genocide. From the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey to the Holocaust in Europe to the more recent massacres in Darfur and Somalia, nation states have served as walls insulating totalitarian governments and stifling the cries of suffering people. Refugees, once able to flee persecution by simple migration, now must jump through elaborate hoops and campaign their merits to successfully emigrate to a safe country where they are too frequently welcomed with xenophobia and nativism, even in this Nativity season.
While it is fruitless and perhaps not even desirable to speak of abolishing nation-states, this holiday season must remind us that division, wherever it occurs, makes us somehow less than we truly are. As Dr. King believed “…whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”
On December 27, Israel bombed the Gaza strip, killing at least 205 Palestinians. In protest of the air strike, the Christmas tree in Bethlehem was doused, though it normally remains lit until the Orthodox Nativity celebrations in January. (Middle East Times)
In this holiday season of Ramadan, Hannukah, Christmas, and the Chinese New Year, Colossians 3:11 rings truer than ever –
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” May we realize the truth in Dr. King’s words, that we are all “tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” A wall, be it in Bethlehem or Brownsville or in human hearts, denies that very unity all children of God share, the same unity Christ came to preach 2000 years ago. Let us not forget.