The Prince of Peace
Luke 2:11 "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."
Walking out of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the supposed place of Jesus' birth, we were met by death: a progression of black-cloaked mourners carrying a coffin for a funeral service. As the last of the procession passed us, we climbed aboard our bus to visit Bethlehem Bible College. Upon our arrival, we were informed that the funeral we had seen was that of 21-year-old Srour Ahmad Abu Srour, a Palestinian refugee killed by Israeli police yesterday.
Biblical scholars believe Bethlehem, located in the "hill country" of Judah, may be the same as the Biblical Ephrath which means "fertile", as there is a reference to it in the Book of Micah as Bethlehem Ephratah. The Bible also calls it Beth-Lehem Judah,and the New Testament describes it as the "City of David". It is first mentioned in the Bible as the place where the matriarch Rachel died and was buried "by the wayside" (Gen. 48:7). Rachel's Tomb, the traditional grave site, stands at the entrance to Bethlehem. According to the Book of Ruth, the valley to the east is where Ruth of Moab gleaned the fields and returned to town with Naomi. It was the home of Jesse, father of King David of Israel, and the site of David's anointment by the prophet Samuel. It was from the well of Bethlehem that three of his warriors brought him water when he was hiding in the cave of Adullam.
In this sober context, we heard a lecture from Dr. Munther Isaac, the academic dean of the school, who is a Palestinian Christian. In his lecture, he noted that often tour groups "run where Jesus walked." His point being that we often treat the Holy Land as if there are not marginalized people groups, such as his own Palestinian Christians, who need to be listened to in the land. We run from holy sight to holy sight as tourists in Israel, neglecting to recognize there have been people marginalized from these places and neglecting to walk with them as Christ would have. The rest of the day provided us with opportunities to practice this walking in marginalized spaces in ways we did not quite anticipate.
Right after we left from Dr. Isaac's message of new hope, we walked into another dismal, death-like picture. We saw dark, black smoke billowing in tufts through the air from tires burnt by Palestinian protestors. We saw Israeli troops armed and ready, clad in black like the mourners from the morning. This time, however, they were robed in a vest and gun that were equipped to take a life rather than mourn one. We heard a background chorus of booming thuds as tear gas canisters exploded in the distance. We saw teenage boys with black gas masks hanging down from their necks as they ran after a wailing ambulance that held one of their fellow brothers. We had walked into a dark space.
After we left this tense space, we had an opportunity to walk with Palestinian Christians that provided a bright and alternative hope in the land against such darkness. We visited the Tent of Nations, a group that seeks to be a bridge of hope and faith in the tension of this land. Though they have been denied building grants on their land by the Israeli government (because they are Palestinians), though they have had Israeli trucks destroy their apricot trees just weeks before the harvest, though they have had Israelis threaten to take their land with weapons, they have committed to planting seeds of peace. They have refused in word and deed to be enemies of Israel, literally planting trees in response to violence. Each time trees are taken down, they plant twice the number, a tangible sign of hope and peaceful resistance.
We had the opportunity to plant four grape vines on the property, a concrete symbol that there is new creation after the destruction of such an edenic garden and that there is new life after the death of a 21-year-old boy. They were a palpable reminder, of the words of Isaiah 11:1, that in this city of Bethlehem, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." That, as Isaiah 9:6-7a says, "to us a child is born...and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called.. Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end."
The seed of Mary, this child, the branch of Jesse's tree that will bear great fruit, Jesus Christ, is the Prince of Peace. He is bringing about a new kingdom free of occupation or oppression. He is bringing about a New Jerusalem, according to Revelation 22:2, in which there stands the "tree of life...yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." For the healing of Palestinians and the Jews. For the healing of the peoples of all nations.
I thank God for this opportunity to taste and see the fruit of this kingdom healing today.
Yours, in Christ,