Christmas Message 2000
In a season rich in tradition, one of the most beloved Christmas customs is the symbolic re-creation of the scene of our Saviors birth 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. In homes and congregations everywhere, reverent hands carefully arrange figures representing the holy family, the magi, the shepherds, and the animals found in that long-ago stablea tangible reminder of the coming of the infant Prince of Peace into a troubled world.
This Christmas season, as nativity sets once again come out of storage and are reassembled, our television screens and other media are full of very different, very violent scenes from the Holy Land. A delegation of U.S. church leaders in which the National Council of Churches participated went to the Middle East to see these scenes firsthand and to speak with people in the regionin Bethlehem itself and in Jerusalem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Gaza.
The delegation returned determined to tell the truth of the horror they had seen. They told of precious Palestinian and Israeli lives lost, of exploded shells made in the USA found in ambulances and family homes, of centuries-old olive groves uprooted, of Palestinian communities suffering in hunger and poverty as the conflict puts hundreds of thousands of people out of work.
All that they saw and heard underlines the urgency of efforts to seek peace and justice in the region. After speaking with religious and political leaders of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, the delegation outlined nine steps that are essential for a durable peace, beginning with a prompt end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas.
In the wake of the renewed violence of recent weeks, prayer and action are needed more than ever to achieve these goals. Member communions of the National Council of Churches have pledged their support for reconciliation, healing and a just peace both for the Israeli and Palestinian communities. We are also joining with others in an international prayer vigil for Middle East peace that began on the first Sunday in Advent. I invite you to join in this great vigil and to pray also for people in every part of the world who are affected by conflict.
As we celebrate Christmas in a world divided, may every crèche, every carol, every candle, every sacred symbol, renew in us an awareness of Gods reconciling love, of the transforming power of the Spirit and of our oneness in Christ. Receiving these gifts, we can be the peacemakers and the standard-bearers of justice that we are called to be.
To each one of you who receives this message, I wish a joy-filled and peaceful Christmas. May all the beloved customs of this holy season recall for you the gift of God in Christ that marked the first Christmas. May the hope and joy of Christmas thus be rekindled in your heart and be a blessing to all around you and to a troubled world.
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