Sabeel Christmas message 2015
President of Sabeel’s board Naim Ateek reflects on the year and what our calling is as Christians working for peace in the Middle East
‘Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things …. and the God of peace will be with you.’ (Phil 4:8-9)
When we look at the state of our world today and the messy situation we find ourselves in, it seems ludicrous at this Christmas season to talk about peace on earth, love of neighbor, compassion for others, and joy and goodwill to all.
Tragically, we have been witnessing on a daily basis terror vs. terror, military power vs. military power, revenge and counter revenge, a hundred eyes for one eye, and inhuman behavior among people. Jesus Christ seems to have no place in the raging conflicts, and justice does not seem to stand a chance.
Yet it is precisely in the midst of this terrible world predicament, political turmoil, and human devastation that we must proclaim our commitment to the above virtues. As Paul wrote, we need to continue to dwell on ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable…’ We need to think about these things and act on them and ‘the God of peace’ will be with us.
At this Christmas time, we, therefore, insist that the God in whom we believe and trust is the God of peace and love and not war and hate. We cling to our faith in a loving and compassionate God who calls us away from hatred and violence and into justice and reconciliation.
We believe that the birth of Jesus Christ represents God’s commitment and personal involvement in the life of our world and its people. Jesus Christ continues to inspire us to re-commit ourselves to the work of justice and peacemaking and to a life of sacrificial service to others especially the weak and oppressed among us. Christ continues to be our Emanuel. He is with us in our joys and in our sorrows. And we believe that his way is the way of peace and nonviolence; and we will continue to walk in his footsteps because it is the way of life.
A proper response at this Christmas Season is the need for humility, contrition, and repentance. Some of the western powers have allowed the rise of ISIS and the world is reaping what has been sown. The Government of Israel has allowed the empowerment of the extremist settlers and many Palestinians and Israelis have become the victims. The illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories continues unabated; the Israeli lust for land and settlement building is unrelenting; and the monopolizing and Judaizing of Jerusalem continues unchecked. Such tragic facts cannot be glossed over but must be faced, admitted, and taken into account. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God.
- As people of faith – Christians, Muslims, and Jews, we need to double our endeavors to build a world where Justice, truth, and mercy can find a home.
- As people of faith – we need to hold our governments accountable for not doing enough for the poor and the underprivileged in our societies; while massive expenditures are spent on arms that destroy and kill instead of being used for food, health, and education. The cry against such crimes must be louder and stronger.
- The prophetic cry against the Israeli government’s continued disregard of Palestinian political and human rights and its infringements on international law have become subdued and muted. It is the responsibility of our church leaders, Imams, and Rabbis in Jerusalem and throughout the world to take a stronger and clearer stand against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.
- As people of different faiths, we have a responsibility before God to make each of our religions contribute towards building greater religious tolerance, respect and acceptance of others so that people of various religious and ethnic backgrounds can live in harmony and peace.
- As people of different faiths, we have based our theologies on selected texts from the Bible and Quran that reflect a narrow, exclusive, and fundamentalist understanding. Instead of promoting the love of God and neighbor, our interpretations have encouraged racism and discrimination and the exclusion of the other.
It is time to turn the tide of injustice and oppression into the peaceful waves of justice and peace so that the God of peace, love, and compassion can be glorified and all of our peoples can live in peace and security.
A PEACEFUL Christmas to all
President of Sabeel Board