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Christmas in Jerusalem - a message from Bishop Riah

Posted on: December 26, 2003 3:31 PM
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Christmas Eve
The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

"And when they saw it they made known the saying which has been told them concerning the child…" Luke 1:1-17

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Salaam and grace in the name of our Lord and blessed Christmas Eve greetings to you from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem.

Things have not changed much, or should we say we're back to square one.
Occupation, fear, insecurity, expropriation, violations, demolitions, hopelessness and homelessness. And yet we can't but continue to share hope in this hopeless situation and bring life even in the midst of death.

The Gift of Hope

It was an unforgettable moment when, in September 15, 1987, Tony Melendez played his guitar for Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles. Born without arms, he performed a touching song entitled "Never Be the Same". When the Pope approached him from the stage to kiss him in appreciation, it seemed to reflect the sentiments of the entire country.

….suddenly the Pope was standing at my feet. At that moment I wished I had arms. I wanted to reach out and take his hands in mine. Instead, he held his arms out to me. As I leaned forward, the Pope took my head in his hands, and kissed me gently on the right cheek.

"Tony", he said, "You are giving hope to all of us. My wish to you is to continue giving hope to all the people."

This is the Christmas challenge. This is our Christmas message. We are called to share it knowing that "in Him - in Jesus - was the life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and will never, overcome it."

Hence and regardless of the tragic situation in which we find ourselves in, Christmas comes to remind us of ever-renewing hope, ever-renewing light, and ever-renewing peace.

We are aware of the little children shivering in winter cold at the Israeli check-points, or left on the rubble of their demolished homes; we can't but cry with all mothers whose fortune was as sad as that of Rachel. We note that the smiles of peace and harmony have been bitterly and barbarically stolen from the faces of Christ-like newborn babies....

But with our eyes ever heavenward looking, we will unlock the chains, wipe our tears, break down the barriers, and do away with all the walls that separate people from people, build up trust and build up bridges, and keep on singing with greater hope:

"Joy to the world….the whole world, the whole wide world…the Lord is come."

And as we go from here, and throughout the coming New Year, we are no more led by a star, but by Christ – the Good Shepherd, who desires that each and every one of us becomes a star leading others to Him in whose birth, life, death and resurrection have been fulfilled the prophecies of old.

His own, to whom He came, did not receive Him, but all of us who have received Him in our Baptism have become the Children of God.

And as such, much is expected of us, not least to allow God to fulfil His purposes in us the way He did with Christ, for as Paul testifies in his writings:

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself...."

The same God entrusted you and me with the task and ministry of reconciliation. Becoming busy and positively involved in the mission of reconciliation does not mean that we set aside the search for justice and restrict ourselves to preaching about peace or even singing for peace! We are called to be peace-makers and not only peace-talkers if we are to be counted among the blessed ones. Didn't he say, "Blessed are the peace-makers for they shall be called the children of God." Visa versa, only the children of God will make peace!!! The others may continue to talk but fail to walk the talk.

May God in His mercy surprise us with the hope and spirit of Christmas so that it may not remain the event of yesterday but will become the event of the day, day in and day out, ever praying:

"O Come to us, abide with us our Lord Emmanuel."

Know that this comes with my prayers and best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with Peace and Joy.

In Christ,

+ The Rt Revd Riah Abu El-Assal