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Patriarch Emeritus

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Christmas Homily 2006

Brothers and Sisters,
I wish you all a Blessed Christmas.

1.         To you, the residents of this holy city of Bethlehem, and to all our faithful in all parts of our patriarchal diocese in Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Cyprus, to all who live in this Holy Land, Jews, Druze, Muslims, and Christians, to all our Arab countries, and to all Christians throughout the world, from Bethlehem I wish you a Joyous and Blessed Christmas.

Mr. President Mahmoud Abbas, I welcome you and all your companions.  We pray and ask God to give you the wisdom and courage to carry out your duties amid the difficult internal tensions we are experiencing and to see in the near future the days of justice spoken of by the prophet: “I will raise up for David a just shoot: he shall do what is right and just in the land… and Jerusalem shall dwell secure” (Jer 33, 15-16).

2.         Yes, Brothers and sisters, Christmas has returned amid the same difficult circumstances as in years past, but further aggravated by our internal dissensions.  With all of that in mind, we wish to meditate together on the words of St. Paul who tells us in his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4, 4) because “the grace of God has appeared” (Ti 2, 11): the “Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1, 14).

Saint Paul adds: with joy, “may your kindness be known to all,” and may it be lived with all, without any exceptions, in all circumstances, in your parish community, in the city, in your relations between our various Churches, and between our different religions.

And, in our difficult circumstances, the Apostle adds: “dismiss all anxieties from your mind.” All anxieties, those stemming from the occupation and from all of its consequences, the wall, the lack of freedom, the lack of work, the stifled social life, the families separated by the military laws, and the internal Palestinian dissensions which have been added recently.  In the midst of all of that, “dismiss all anxieties.”  That means, stay strong, and do not weaken under the burden.  Know that each day is Christmas in the life of every believer, that is to say, that each day and in all circumstances the goodness of God is born in each believer who accepts to receive his grace.  And with this grace, he/she can face all anxieties.  “Have no anxieties” means that anxieties should not prompt us to do evil or to forget that we can overcome evil with good.  Consequently, the goodness God has put in us allows us to correct evil with good and to stop the advance of evil by resisting it, in order to foster life, not death, to bring about justice, not the prolongation of oppression, and to put an end to the occupation instead of leaving it weigh on us. 
The result of this goodness will be peace: “Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds” (Phil 4, 7).  God’s peace surpasses all understanding because it comes from him.  But even if it surpasses all understanding, it is nevertheless a source of life amid our anxieties in this land and can guide the combatants on both sides to find the path to true peace.

3.         This path of the spirit, described by the Apostle Paul, is surely not the path followed in the conflicts taking place around the world, nor in the conflict which has been tearing us apart for generations in this Holy Land.  However, humanity and all human beings are called to become aware of these paths of the spirit in order to discover in them the light and wisdom needed to find their way out of these dead ends of death.  We are all invited to examine our conscience in light of the goodness God has put in each of us, in all of us, political leaders, adversaries on both sides, militias, those who are classified as extremists and terrorists…those who claim to speak in the name of God, and all those who say they want peace.  All are invited to examine their conscience in order to enter a new path that puts an end to bloodshed, death, and, in these days, to new internal quarrels.  In this way, peace will come about and all human beings will regain their dignity without any additional blood being shed: the Palestinians in their internal struggles, or the Israeli soldiers who continue to kill Palestinians in their Palestinian cities.

4.         The conflict here has lasted too long.  It is high time that the leaders who have our destinies in their hands in this land, specifically, the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as those of the international community: it is time for all of them to take new measures that will bring an end to the long phase of death in our history and lead us into a new phase in the history of this Holy Land.  That is what we need.

To all Christians around the world, from Bethlehem we say: may you have a Blessed Christmas.  We need your prayers and your input in order to begin a new period in our history.  There are many who inquire about what is happening to us and about our hardships, and who are preoccupied about our future and our impending disappearance from this land.  Some believe that we are in danger because of our relations with Muslims.  Others see us caught between two majorities, one Muslim and the other Jewish.  Yes, the issue of a majority and a minority poses a problem.  And in our relations between Muslims and Christians, we have not yet reached a perfect balance, but many efforts are being made to attain one day the desired stability.  But the Christian issue today in the Holy Land is not first of all a question of a minority caught between two majorities, nor is it a question of relations between Christians and Muslims.  The problem facing Christians and their fate hinges very simply on the ongoing conflict.  Today, the real danger that threatens our present and future as Christians in the Holy Land and prompts some among us to emigrate is very simply the question of the political instability that threatens us as well as the occupation and all of its implications on all aspects of our life.  For those who are truly interested in our future and who want to help us, that is the aspect to work on, namely, political stability, justice, peace, the end of the occupation, and reconciliation.  Helping the two peoples to begin a new era of peace, justice, and reconciliation in the region will assure the future of Christians in this land.
It is also true that, these days, we are witnessing the development of a new dimension of the conflict, the fratricidal struggles between Palestinians.  This is yet an additional danger for us as well as for everyone.  At the same time, Christmas speaks of peace to everyone and invites each of us to see in his brother the dignity God has given him.  To take a stand against my brother and against any brother is to take a stand against God, the Creator of my brother and my Creator.  Christmas is saying to us: put down your arms.  Have recourse to dialogue and reason.  The fratricidal struggle is not the way toward the desired freedom but a way toward more deaths, more confusion, and a new slavery we are imposing upon ourselves.

5.         We pray this holy night for all our Arab countries, especially those suffering special hardships: Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan.  For all of them we ask for peace, wisdom, and the ability to see in all human beings God’s love for them.  We pray for the prisoners so that God may grant them their freedom and bring them back to their families.  We pray for all who are suffering, for the sick, and for all who have lost the joy of living.  May their hearts be filled with the joy of Christmas and with the vision of God who loves every human being and who sympathizes with each one’s hardships.  Finally, we ask God to grant each one of us the grace to learn how to become peacemakers, not warmongers, givers of life, not of death, and to carry the grace of Christmas in our hearts every day and at all times.  Amen.
+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

 

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