Advent 2 - Isaiah
for Sunday, December 4
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Is 40.8)
The writer of these words probably lived among the exiles in Babylon—Israelites who had been conquered in 587 BCE, forced from their homes in Jerusalem and marched to Babylon. There they spent 50 years mourning their beloved Jerusalem and doing what exiles always do—finding ways to feed their families and carry on their traditions in a strange land. When Cyrus conquered the Babylonian empire in 538, he issued an edict which allowed these exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.
The Palestinians know exile and longing for home. 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and villages in 1947-50 as the Israeli paramilitaries, the Haganah and the Irgun, roamed the land. They rousted villagers out of their homes at gunpoint, forcing them onto the roads and either blowing up the buildings or guarding them to prevent the return of the people.** An additional 300,000 Palestinians were displaced during the 1967 war. These statistics are disputed, but the ones I’ve used are averages. [See a detailed description of Palestinian refugees on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinian_refugee]
Today their descendants, 4.7 million Palestinians, are registered as refugees with the UN. They live primarily in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They are still waiting for the edict allowing them to return home.
Like the ancient Israelites in Babylon, the Palestinian refugees live their lives while
they wait. They marry, raise children, bury their elders and create businesses, schools and civic organizations. They March in protest against the building of the separation wall, which, in the Bethlehem district, has taken all but 13% of the land for the wall and for the building of new Israeli settlements StopTheWall.org).
The people of Bethlehem and people from all over the world who visit the wall have created works of art on the 24-foot-high concrete barrier. Some of the artwork protests the wall; some of the outsized figures minimize the wall; slogans express the people’s longing for freedom. Near our hotel in October I walked along the wall as it meandered in and out, cutting off streets and shops.
The artwork on the wall in the photo reminds me of Isaiah’s words. It shows the New Jerusalem—herald of GOOD tidings, a city shining on the hill. A Jerusalem where the reign of God’s love and compassion has broken into the world and the walls have fallen. It is a vision Palestinians cling to—their hope for the future.
God of the impossible, in this Advent season, we await your new creation, a world where your gentle reign breaks through the darkness, a world where your lambs are sheltered and cared for. Help us trust your promises and proclaim your good news to the world. Amen.
** (for a detailed history, village by village, read Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers tells his own family’s story; a Colorado family’s story is told in The Olive Grove, by Deborah Rohan; or see IfAmericansKnew.org: http://www.ifamericansknew.com/history/refugees.html).