Wall in Bethlehem
Photos and reflections by George Aros
Visiting the Holy Land in December of 2009 was a dream come true and an eye-opener. What follows are some thoughts provoked by that experience for your consideration this Advent season.
Growing up with Bible stories and all the traditions about Christmas fostered a particular view and mindset. Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee were a lovely rural embodiment of all that. The prospect of going to Jerusalem was exciting.
It was at Bethlehem that the illusions were shattered. Bethlehem is on the "West Bank" that pops up in all the Middle East news reports. The reality of Jesus burst Herod's bubble. So that's the first thing to think about.
Amid the gift stores and souvenir shops was a mural that caught my eye.
I love Eugene Peterson's "The Message" translation and in Matt. 2:1-3, 6:
"After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory -- this was during Herod's kingship -- a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, "Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signalled his birth. We're on pilgrimage to worship him…."
When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified -- and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well.
“It's you Bethlehem, in Judah's land, no longer bringing up the rear. From you will come the leader who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel. "
From infancy, the Prince of Peace was targeted by the "powers that be" who feared anyone who might threaten their "cushy gig." To this day there are those "gunning" for the dove as depicted in this Bethlehem mural. I was shocked by the reality of discovering that a Berlin style wall splits Jerusalem. I recalled the furor among the Allied General Staff at the news of the spontaneous Christmas Truce of 1918 when the rank and file of both sides stopped World War I to celebrate Christmas. Like the Romans before them, I suspect that today's generals and war-profiteers quake in their boots every Christmas at the thought that the Prince of Peace might return to spread the light.
The mural is also a reminder that the Prince of Peace sent the Holy Spirit to be and to stay with us to this very day. We don't hear much about Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but the Masters of Global War all assure their followers that God is on their side.
True followers of Christ see the Advent season as one of joyful anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah. Matthew goes on to describe the other side of the coin.
Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills...That's when Jeremiah's sermon was fulfilled:
A sound was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel refusing all solace.
Her children gone,
dead and buried.
The wall at Bethlehem, like its predecessor in Berlin, has been illuminated by hundreds of artists and the two remaining photos come from among the paintings on the Bethlehem side of the wall.
Today's child-killing Herod prevents easy access to Jerusalem's emergency medical services. This ghetto-ization is unfathomable to me when I consider the historical treatment of European Jews. Depicted as an infant-eating snake by an unknown graffiti artist, the concrete serpent keeps Jerusalem "safe" from the evils of Bethlehem. This ghetto-ization is unfathomable to me when I consider the historical treatment of European Jews. I wonder, would the Jesus of today be a Palestinian?
Jesus' family fled to Egypt as homeless immigrants. Had they been "deported" by Egyptian ICE, Jesus would have fallen victim to Herod's edict of slaughter.
The final illustration, seen while waiting at the crossing checkpoint, embodies Simeon's message from Luke 2:29-35.
"With my own eyes, I've seen your salvation, it's now out in the open for everyone to see. A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel. Jesus' father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother.
This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel. A figure misunderstood and contradicted-- the pain of a sword-thrust through you-- But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are."
This image says so many things to me. I see tree stumps that recall both the olive groves destroyed by the Israeli Army in the "occupied territories" and echo the "clear-cut" forests left by our own timber barons who push ultra-consumption, consumerism and greed are the lifeblood of Xma$.
The artist speaks also of the privatization of creation and treatment of the good news as a commodity.
Also depicted is the attempt to "own" Christmas and to deny it to "outsiders." I see also fear by the powerful of the God-revealing light and the attempt to limit and contain that light.
May the Peace of the Prince and the God-revealing light both fill and surround you this Advent season.