Patriarch Michel Sabbah with Elias Freij, a Palestinian who is the mayor of Bethlehem, and an Israeli government official. (photo: CNEWA files)
A Greek Orthodox priest walks by an Israeli patrol on his way to a Palm Sunday procession in the Old City, Jerusalem. (photo: Paul Souders)
Departing from tradition, His Beatitude, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, delivered the following homily during Midnight Mass in Bethlehem this past Christmas. Under traditions of protocol since Ottoman times, homilies are not delivered during this Mass.
Christmas brings us together on this holy night to reflect on the mystery of Gods love for mankind; for today the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared. (Titus 3:4) And, as it is written in the letter to the Hebrews, In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken through his Son, whom he has made heir of all things and through whom he first created the universe. This Son is the reflection of Gods glory, the exact representation of the Fathers being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1: 1-3)
We have come together tonight to meditate, to contemplate the glory, the kindness and the love of God which has been revealed to us. It is especially during this time of torment and sinfulness in which we are living that we need this contemplation, which is the regeneration of the Spirit within us.
And in this contemplation on Gods kindness and love we pray for peace and justice in our Holy Land which has been bathed in the blood and the torment of its children for many years, but particularly in these last two years.
First, we address our children in Bethlehem all the Palestinian people. We say to them: We are living your ordeal and we understand your torment. We understand why you ask us how it is that we can celebrate Christmas, its joy, its message of salvation, in the midst of this humiliating ordeal, of ransacked homes, of children who are killed and imprisoned?
To you we say: In spite of this ordeal, your dark night, and in fact because of it, we will continue to announce to you the joy of the Savior who has been born for the salvation of all.
We invite you to contemplate the Savior to reflect on God and his eternal Word. We invite you to gaze upon the spirit, which is the revelation of the kindness and love of God, in order to renew your faith in God and in mankind. In spite of all misfortune which surrounds you, there are men of goodwill, there is goodness in humanity and in all people. This goodness will finally overcome evil.
We also say to you who are suffering this ordeal and this dark night, to prepare yourselves for love and for forgiveness.
The love in your hearts will save you and render you just the love for God and for those who cause you torment. For it is when each one discovers the face of God in his adversary that justice and peace will be established.
And in a similar manner, we say to the Jewish people: Prepare your hearts for love and for forgiveness. Love will save you and will give you the security you desire.
And to the authorities here present we say: Help and give these two peoples the opportunity to rediscover themselves. Help them to reconcile themselves to each other and to love one another.
Together, let us contemplate the mystery of Gods love revealed in the mystery of Christmas. We all need to meditate on the kindness of God in order to persuade ourselves that mankind, Gods children, is capable of being good in spite of all the bad that we are currently experiencing in this Holy Land, the land of the incarnation where we contemplate God.
May each one meditate on the difficult words of the Psalmist: Men of rank, how long will you be dull of heart? Why do you love what is vain and seek after falsehood? (Psalms 4:2)
And with St. Paul, I say: Do not stifle the Spirit avoid any semblance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22) For the bloody conflict in which we have been living for so long must cease. Peace and justice must be restored to the Holy Land, origin of peace for the world.
With the Prophet Isaiah, we remind each and every one of his and her responsibilities: For Zions sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalems sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch. (Isaiah 62:1).
And keep these words of Isaiah as well: There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:9)
To the Christians of the world who are praying this night with us and who hear our message from Bethlehem, we also address you with our fraternal message of joy and peace: Brothers and sisters, we ask you to join us in our prayer for peace and justice in this Holy Land, for its tragedy is still without resolution. Do not forget Jerusalem and the two peoples who are in conflict, the Palestinians and the Jews.
The peace of Jerusalem and of its peoples depends on your prayers and on your justice. For if this land is holy in your eyes, bear the responsibility for the persistent and urgent humanitarian actions necessary for justice and security for its two peoples, Palestinians and Jews. Both peoples are in need of salvation. Both peoples are in need of a rebirth strengthened by the message of their lands.
May the words of the prophet Isaiah come to fruition in this year to come: They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (Isaiah 2:4)
Lord Jesus, grant us your salvation and your love. Amen!