B is for Bethlehem. There are, I think, at least 2 Bethlehems. The one we know best is a fairly romanticized place, the setting for pageants and Christmas specials. The other is a place where Israelis and Palestinians live as uneasy neighbours, under the watchful gaze of religious tourists and other visitors from around the world. Here is a prayer written by the Very Reverend David Giuliano, former Moderator of the United Church of Canada.
O Mystery as grand as the universe
O Mighty Force of all creation,
O Power beyond all our power,
You have come to us as an infant.
Vulnerable, fragile, beautiful.
You have come to us
in the midst of poverty,
powerlessness and longing.
Come again, O Promiser of Peace.
Come again, to the city of your birth
mired in fear, oppression and injustice.
Come again, where bullet holes
still pock the walls of Sanctuary.
Come again, where Children dream
of homes they have never seen.
Come again, where a single key
or the number 194 cry out again
of forced journey to Bethlehem.
Be born again in the camps.
Be born again in stables and homes.
Be born again in many cities and languages.
Be born again among nations.
Be born again in places of injustice.
Be born again a promise of hope,
a sign of love and joy to the world.
Be born again in our hearts,
that we too might be called
Makers of peace
and Children of God. Amen
The “single key” refers to the many Palestinians in Bethlehem who still have keys to homes from which they fled in 1948.
The number 194 appears in many places in Bethlehem, and refers to United Nations Resolution #194 granting Palestinian refugees the “right of return” to their home villages.
The Church of the Nativity is still pocked by Israeli bullets that ended a 42-day siege in 2002 after Palestinian soldiers had taken refuge there.