P is for Palestine. That’s the name the Romans used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jordan River, that included Judea (land of the Jews), and Samaria (home of the famous Good Samaritan), and Galilee, the area that includes Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. The name Palestine may have origin with the Philistine people (Remember David and Goliath? Goliath was a Philistine.)
The biblical account of the settling of this land (also called Canaan) by descendants of slaves who escaped Egypt in search of a Promised Land takes up considerable space in the Old Testament. It also provides the cultural and mythic matrix for Jewish identity, and by extension, the Christian understanding of what it means to be God’s people. One of the most powerful elements has been the quest for freedom- political, economic, religious freedom.
For much of recorded history, Palestine has been subject to one form of domination or another. The Persian Empire, the Hellenistic Empire of Alexander the Great, the Hasmonean Dynasty (a short-lived period of home-grown Jewish rule), the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire under Constantine, several Islamic dynasties, the Crusaders, Egyptian rule, the Ottoman Empire, the “British Mandate”, United Nations administration, and finally the partitioning of the land to create the modern state of Israel. Is there another area whose very name summons up such strong feelings and controversy?
The religions of three great “peoples of the Book” grew out of this fertile area. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all view this area as “Holy Land”. This Holy Land has been the location, and the object of so much human conflict and war over the centuries.
This is where Jesus was born. A place where ordinary people have always longed for a lasting peace, that has so far eluded them. A place that has inspired deep faithx and prayer, and which continues to frustrate and confuse people all over the world. A place of incredible beauty, rich history, and also terrible hardship and pain. (It makes sense to me that religious ideas born in this place, that spoke to the human condition there, would resonate with people in other places that have known strife, and in places where people have sought freedom.)
Before we take our two minutes of silent prayer today, let’s say a prayer for the Holy Land and all its cultures, and peoples.
The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario.