Prayers for Palestine
Lord of all people,
On this day as we prepare to welcome you again into our midst,
Help us to understand something of the reality of that first Christmas – the poverty, the fear, the judgement and the journey into the unknown.
Be with all who live that reality today,
Those living under occupation, those fleeing their homes in search of safety.
And be with all who refuse to be silent in the face of prejudice, hatred and injustice.
Let us work for peace with justice for all your people.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.” John 1 v 5
Tonight we will turn our thoughts to Bethlehem, to the Holy family managing to find, at last, refuge in a stable. We will sing the well-known and well-loved carols that provoke in us images of peace, glory, wonder and stillness. We will give and receive cards that bear colourful pictures of the manger, the shepherds, the holy family and the wise men.
And yet, if we re-read the passages in the gospels, the reality of that first Christmas was very different to some of the imagery we have come to know and love. Bethlehem would have been heaving, full of people, likely disgruntled at being forced to register there by the occupying Roman power. Mary and Joseph would have been living with the judgement of others over her pre-wedding pregnancy. And let’s be honest, giving birth in a stable, round the back of a full inn would have been anything but peaceful. As the story unfolds though, new terrors emerge – Herod orders the killing of all male children under the age of 2. And the Holy family are forced to flee as refugees to Egypt. We often gloss over this, not really comprehending the hardships; physical, mental and economic that this journey entailed with an infant in tow. Family, friends and job security all left behind and a lonely and unknown future ahead.
Every month, on or around the 24th, Christian Aid, along with the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the United Reformed Church, speak about the work of our partners in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. We tell the stories of those who refuse to be enemies; those who are brave enough to speak out for justice and to value the intrinsic worth of people who are different. And every month we pray for peace and an end to violence for all people, Israeli and Palestinian, in the troubled land that we still dare to call holy.
Today Bethlehem is a city under occupation. A city of people whose movement is restricted, whose economic opportunities are limited and whose people cry out for justice. This Christmas, Christian Aid and Church partner organisation EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) will have international volunteers standing at the Bethlehem checkpoint, accompanying people as they queue up from 4am and wait in excess of 1, sometimes 1.5 hours, to get through the checkpoint and get to work in Jerusalem.
And Christian Aid partners will be working in Lebanon and Iraq, in camps with refugees from across the region, with people who have had to flee their homeland looking for safety. The hopes and fears do indeed still echo down the years.
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