The wall, it is argued by the Israelis is a security necessity. They are fearful of acts of terrorism as we should all be: and as I write this the police forces of the United Kingdom have been put on alert to educate us about the perceived threats. The wall is higher at the Bethlehem point than the infamous Berlin Wall ever was. It is ugly, brutal and utterly without value. The wall does not protect the whole of Israel, rather, in places, the Arabs just walk through or in others climb over a wire fence. It is pointless. But it is there and it no more secures the safety of the people of Jerusalem than “Dad’s Army” could have prevented an invasion of our island against the Nazis. So why is it there? I suspect political reasons. It allows the Israeli Government to claim they are taking the threat of terrorism seriously and it defines territorial reality. It amazes me that no one in their government argues that the serious pursuit of peace might be the better guarantor of long term peace.
The Church of the Nativity is not a complete shambles nor is it fought over by so many religious groups as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem but it is culturally quite different from anything we would recognise in the west. It would be too elaborate for most of us and infinitely too ornate but for the eastern mind it represents religious tradition, cultural norms and orthodox theology about the Incarnation. It is for this reason that many in the west struggle with it. I suspect many Protestants would find the whole thing distasteful.
My visit to Bethlehem was not all disappointment. I saw people working with youngsters who have Down’s syndrome or special educational needs and it was enlightening and encouraging. I met with Palestinian Human Right’s workers as they navigate a way though the mindless legislation that inhibits life for so many in that place and I shared meals with Palestinian Christians who truly understand the Incarnation. Yes, my visit to Bethlehem was nothing like the picture I have grown up with, but maybe that is just as well; because the picture, though romantic and gorgeous, has nothing to do with the reality of the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago or the reality today. Maybe, when we convince the great swathe of people out there in the streets of our city that the story of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is more about the reality of the confused, suspicious and crazy mixed up world we live in, day in day out, they might just begin to grasp the necessity for that birth. Then we will know peace, then we will all experience the beauty and wonder of God’s amazing gift to humanity – His Son.
Have a wonderful Christmas and may the blessings of God’s peace and love surround you all at this time.