Friday, December 5, 2008

Journey to Bethlehem in Advent

Advent 1 - Week of Nov 30, Mark 13.24-37

In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened…..Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels…

Your kingdom come…..we often recite these words without thinking—it’s a good thing, because if we thought about what we are saying, we would choke on the words. What would it look like for God’s kingdom to come? Isaiah sees quaking mountains; Mark tells of darkening—no sun, no moon, no stars. Not tranquil, happy moments. God’s coming is cataclysmic, disrupting our comfort.

This chapter of Mark is apocalyptic literature, probably written during or shortly after the Jewish War and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem—a message of hope for a people who have lost everything. The Judeans were dispersed and a whole way of life grounded in temple ritual was lost.

This must have been much like the days Shadee described in 1948, when the Arabs in the villages around Bethlehem were routed out of their homes and forced from their lands by the soldiers, who were removing the Arabs for the establishment of the state of Israel. Standing on the rooftop of the community building of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp, he pointed to the nearby hills where his village had been. Shadee was not born then, but his family tells the stories of the soldiers coming into their village with tanks, rounding up all the people at gunpoint—first the men and then the women and children—and forcing them out of their houses and onto the road. They left behind their furniture and their dishes, grabbing only a bit of food and a coat—and making sure all the children were along. They locked their houses and took the keys, hoping that they would be able to return in a few days when the fighting was over.

They arrived in Bethlehem, but there was no room for them—so they camped on some farmland under the olive trees. Finally, because so many thousands of Arabs were homeless, tents were brought in to house the refugees. Residents of this camp came from 52 villages in the West Bank. In 1957 the U.N. built 10 x 10-foot cement dwellings for each family (for 10 people). About 120 people shared a restroom—Shadee told us this was especially hard for the women and he remembers waiting in line, holding a place for his mother.

Shadee is a volunteer with the Ibdaa Cultural Center, formed by Deheisheh residents to “provide a safe environment for the camp's children, youth, and women to develop a range of skills, creatively express themselves, and build leadership … while educating the international community about Palestinian refugees.” Shadee leads tour groups like ours and tells his story. Shadee has not always lived in the camp. He grew up in the Gulf states and in France, where he went to University. As a young man he returned to Deheisheh to claim his status as a refugee so that he can maintain his family’s claim to the lands they lost in 1948. The land has since been designated as parkland and they have never been permitted to return; he has never seen his village. We saw Ibdaa’s daycare and kindergarten, the women’s health center, and the library. We met with Inaz, a social worker who visits women in their homes and talks with them about their sons who are in jail, their husbands who have been killed by Israeli soldiers, of a daughter turned suicide bomber.

In this place, where the electricity is shut down at any time by Israeli soldiers shooting the transformer, where soldiers show up any time of day or night and tear apart your home, the people of Deheisheh resist the Israeli occupation of their land by making a safe place for their children and caring for their old women. God has promised that God’s reign—the world God envisioned in the creation—will come, even though we do not know the day or the hour.

O Lord our God, creator of the universe, you have promised us, your servants created in your image, that you will return in glory to bring peace to the earth. Let that peace begin with us. Your will be done. In the name of your Son, the babe of Bethlehem, Amen.

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