Peace on earth, goodwill to all
By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Each year at Christmas we sing songs and read Scripture texts about the “little town” of Bethlehem. It is easy to get caught up in a sentimental version of Christmas, with a cozy manger scene and everyone gathered around, gazing tranquilly at the new baby.
The reality was probably a lot more messy. Giving birth in a cave and placing the newborn in a feeding trough was not exactly a sign of greatness to come. And the shepherds that came to see the child? According to Alan Culpepper’s commentary on Luke, “shepherding was a despised occupation at the time”—not likely candidates to be invited to the birth of a king.
Today’s reality in Bethlehem is no less messy. Bethlehem is under occupation, which the checkpoints and massive separation wall cutting through the city make all too clear. This year’s Christmas celebrations have had to be toned down due to the escalating violence.
Although Christmas has become a feel-good holiday for many of us in the United States, remembering how God chose to become incarnate on this earth should discomfort and challenge those of us with power and wealth. We are implicated in the current-day occupation of Bethlehem through the $3.2 billion in military aid that the U.S. sends to Israel each year.
In Jesus’ day Caesar Augustus wanted the people to see him as the source of peace. But the “peace” that he imposed through military power was not really peace. At Jesus’ birth the angels proclaimed that peace on earth comes from God, not from human authorities or military might. God’s will is for all people of the earth to experience peace and goodwill—Palestinian and Israeli alike.
The current brokenness of occupation and violence feels like a far cry from angels proclaiming peace on earth. But as we work for peace this Christmas season, let us remember that “God has given us…a living hope” through the baby born in a cave outside Bethlehem (1 Peter 1:3).