Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Advent 1 - 1 Corinthians, Giving Thanks

First Sunday in Advent
November 27, 2011
1 Corinthians 1.3-9

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace that has been given you in Christ Jesus… (1 Cor 1.4)

Israel’s security wall is not finished. The first time I visited Bethlehem we could walk around the 24-foot-high concrete barrier. The next time I came, there was a checkpoint with heavy metal gates and guards who boarded our bus with their AK-47s.

Each time I have visited over the past six years, I see some portion of the wall which was incomplete on my previous visit, but now is finished. And where the wall is still unfinished, there are always bulldozers, earthmovers and Palestinian laborers setting rebar and pouring concrete—the constant hum of heavy machinery echoes across the hills of Bethlehem. In 2010 when I stayed at the Everest Hotel high on a hilltop above Beit Jala, we woke each morning to the sound of the bulldozers across the street, adding one more section to the wall.

It is depressing and it makes me very angry….and crazy to know that my tax dollars support what is happening.

So I am all the more amazed when I witness the work of the Lutherans who stay in Bethlehem and create a future for their children and a comfortable life for their elderly—even though they are held captive behind these walls. This is why I return—to sit with them in worship and soak

up a bit of the hope they have been given. They embody a deep faith in God’s promises that I do not see very often—a hope I too easily forget.

It is a hope based, not on knowing that their situation will improve, but, as Paul reminds us, on “the grace of God that has been given to [them] in Christ Jesus.”

On this last visit, I was particularly sad to hear Pastor Mitri tell us that politically he has no hope. “We cannot change the world,” he said, but he went on to say they can change the reality of life for the people of Bethlehem. He told us that the ministries of the Christmas Lutheran Church—the K-12 school, wellness center, senior program, and the new college—constitute the third largest employer in the Bethlehem area.

This is truly a grace of God—and we were there to witness this miracle as we toured the school and watched the children, Christian and Muslim, learning and playing together. And as we visited the Wellness Center and Dar Al-Kalima college, where we saw students eating in the beautiful new cafeteria, practicing in the music practice rooms and studying with their professors.

I am always reminded of the miracles that Jesus performed as he walked these same hills and encountered people who were suffering. God is working miracles in Bethlehem today through these faithful servants who have been given God’s grace for this work.

God of grace, you sent your son so that we might know you and receive your blessings. In this Advent season, help us to know the hope of your steadfast love and promises. Help us find ways to join in the work of your servants, bringing hope to hopeless people in the US and around the world. Amen.

*****If you live in Denver, plan to support these Lutherans by coming to a special service of Lessons and Carols for Advent, “On Our Way to Bethlehem,” on Sunday, December 4, 7:30 pm, at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 E. Alameda. It is a fundraiser for a music classroom for the College. We are raising $50,000 so that construction can be completed and loans repaid. If you cannot come, but would like to make a donation, please email me.

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