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Advent Advocacy 2006: materials for all ages!
During Advent we tend to picture the Bethlehem of Jesus' time. We see an inn with no vacancies and a cozy cave where gentle, warm animals share their quaint eating trough with Jesus. The scene sparkles with our desire for a familiar Christmas setting 'with hearts all aglow.'
I visited Bethlehem in June, 2004 with both Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams. Towering walls and militarized fences now encircle Bethlehem, turning the 4,000-year-old city into a virtual prison for its 160,000 Palestinian citizens-both Christian and Muslim. As in Mary and Joseph's time, the land is occupied and registration with an occupying government is a constant requirement.
I stayed overnight in a refugee camp, which is actually a permanent city housing thousands of people piled on top of each other, with one entrance and very little sunlight. Our guide proudly told me that many university professors come from his camp and teach around the world. Another way young folks get out, I found out later, is by becoming suicide bombers.
Bethlehem, which lies in the West Bank, now has only three gates to the outside world, all controlled by the Israeli army. I could travel freely on a U.S. passport; the Christian community mediators I visited could not go to Jerusalem even to celebrate Easter. During Advent 2005 one mediator sent a compelling visual of his life: the three wise men trying to dig under the wall to follow the star to baby Jesus. One group has created a crèche with a separation wall. Canon Garth Hewitt, director of Amos Trust, London, said: "Most people don't realize how cut off Bethlehem is now and how difficult life is for the people living there. We are selling these nativity scenes in the hope that people will give a thought to those living in the little town this Christmas." Who wants to hear this truth at Christmas?
We do, if we have chosen to follow the Jesus whose birth terrified Herod, whose words berated the Pharisees, who cleaned out a house of worship because it reeked of injustice. We do, if we choose to worship a risen king, not a myth of a quiet silent night. We do, if we choose to love as Jesus came to teach us to love.
This advent, we invite you to join us as we learn about people who lived when Jesus was born and who live in Bethlehem today. We invite you to worship a risen Christ, who cares how we live and worship and who invites us to do justice, especially during our cozy season of Advent.
Unemployment is 60% in Bethlehem and many people have turned to crafts to earn desperately needed income for their families. Your congregation and/or individual families might choose to purchase olive wood crèche sets from Ten Thousand Villages, www.tenthousandvillages.com, adding one piece each Advent Sunday. Perhaps the stories of carpenters who can't sell their wares, shepherds separated from their sheep and children living without peace will return each year when the crèche set comes out for advent.
May Christ bless you with the need to tell the whole story this advent.
Susan Mark Landis: Mennonite Church USA peace advocate