ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

In the Middle of the Night

Msgr. Stern reflects on the words of the Prophet Isaiah as read at Midnight Mass in Bethlehem.

An almost unbelievable scene takes place in the Israeli-occupied territories –

The young Palestinian Arab walks solemnly up to the lectern. Right in front of him, the Israeli military commander of the West Bank is seated in camouflage fatigues. The youth boldly delivers a carefully prepared proclamation:

The people who walked in darkness
   have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
   a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
   and great rejoicing…
For the yoke that burdened them,
   the pole on their shoulder,
And the rod of their taskmaster
   you have smashed…

The time – Christmas eve, just past midnight. The place – Bethlehem. The author of the bold proclamation – the prophet Isaiah.

Every year it’s my happy privilege to join the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in the concelebration of the Masses of Christmas. Following the tradition of my predecessors, I’m there symbolically representing the membership of our Association and praying for the intentions of each of our members.

I’m seated on the altar at the right of Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a native of Nazareth. We’re flanked by priests from around the world. The congregation has a few local folk, hundreds of foreign visitors and local civic officials. The Greek Orthodox mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij is there; so is the Jewish mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek.

Isaiah’s words have a curiously contemporary ring. Originally they were meant to console his afflicted Jewish brethren, oppressed by the Assyrians, and yearning for the coming of the Messianic King and Kingdom.

Enshrined in the Latin liturgy, his words soar to embrace the whole world, yearning for its redemption. But proclaimed in Bethlehem in our day, they sound almost like a call to insurrection.

But what a betrayal that would be, of all that the followers of Jesus believe about Him. “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” He said.

The smasher of every yoke, the ultimate liberator from all oppression is Almighty God.

Isaiah’s are powerful words, holy words, hope-filled words. Isaiah’s words are the surest grounds for peace:

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
   upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
   Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
   and forever peaceful,
From David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
   which he confirms and sustains
By judgement and justice,
   both now and forever.

Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA

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