|HOMILY OF THE PATRIARCH H.B. MICHEL SABBAH
Data: Saturday, Dicember 25th, 2004
Source: Latin Patriarchate - Jerusalem
CHRISTMAS 2004 - HOMILY
1. A Happy and Blessed Christmas to all! I pray to God for all of you and for all the people who live in this Holy Land, for all our diocese, for Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus, so that God will give all a Christmas which fills all our hearts with serenity, joy, peace and life in abundance.
2. Dear friends, leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas-Abu-Mazen, Rawhi Fattawi, and Ahmed Qurei-Abu Ala, you have wished to continue the tradition began by President Arafat, who has recently left us to go to eternity, and you wanted to be present here with us in this holy night. In your presence we see what we used to see in the presence of President Arafat: first of all an act of homage to the glory of God the Most High, then an act of homage to the town of Bethlehem, the place of the Nativity, which as you know has a deep significance for all humanity, and therefore also an act of homage to the Christian presence in the midst of the Palestinian people of whom you, as successors of Arafat, are now shouldering the responsibility for its unity, for its journey toward justice and peace, and for the keeping of public order. This is important so that all the citizens can live under the protection of the laws and the authority of its leaders. You are most welcome! We pray to God that He may open the spirits and hearts of all who in this land have the responsibility to work for the realization of justice and peace. May He help all to know how to follow the ways of reason and wisdom in facing a reality which seems incurable.
3. Brothers and sisters, our prayer during this night gathers us here before the mystery of God who becomes man in our land. In front of this mystery, we believe and we adore.
Saint Luke gives us the account of the event of which we are re-enacting the memory, and which is a historical event. It happened during the time of a general census in the Roman province of Syria. Mary and Joseph, from the tribe of David, and who lived in Nazareth, left their town and journeyed back to Bethlehem, the town of David, in order to be enrolled in the census. Holy Scripture tells us that in a grotto, close to the town the time for Mary, the fullness of time, arrived, and she gave birth.
Saint John describes in a different way this event by giving a profound meaning to it: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. As Isaiah had prophesied, this God was Emmanuel, God-with-us.
The Christian community believed and believes still in this mystery of Christmas, of God-with-us. With the Fathers of the Church and with all Christians, we repeat from generation to generation our profession of common faith: We believe in one God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. We believe in Jesus Christ, His Eternal Word, born of the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father. For us and for our salvation He took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became man. This is what Christmas means for us.
4. We also meditate upon the words which the Gospel says regarding the new-born child: He will be a sign of contradiction, a cause for the downfall and resurrection of many in Israel and in the world. The reason is simple: the values of humanity are not always those of God.
This is the reason why the Christians often find themselves to be a sign of contradiction. The struggle with multiple difficulties is a normal thing, particularly here in the Holy Land in our days. In order to face the difficulties and challenges, however, it is not necessary to shout, to weep, to accuse, to abandon our land and the vocation which we are called to live in it, or to ask ourselves: where is our God? Holy Scripture tells us that God is in us, that He is very close to us. It is important, therefore, to be silent, to remain calm for some moments in order to see Him and listen to Him. In that way Christians will know how to behave in front of all aspects of private and public life. It is on this vision that we base our patience, so that we strenghten our hope and our ability to rise above all events, in order to continue to love and to build, even though we might be surrounded by demolitions, by the will of death, of hatred and of fear.
Jesus told us: Do not be afraid. I have won over the world. I have won over evil in the world.
My brothers and sisters, we are not numerous. If you continue counting our small numbers, you will remain small and weak. You need, instead, to strengthen your faith, and you will be freed from the laws of quantity and of numbers. You will enter into the domain of the spirit and of love, which are two factors which can win over evil, and over the law of who is most and least numerous, with all that this can entail regarding tensions between different families, tribes, nations and religions. In this way you can remain faithful to your civil duties with all the sacrifices which you can be asked to shoulder in these days.
To live in the Holy Land is a vocation. It is a difficult vocation and life: it is your life, with all its developments and commitments, of whatever kind they might be, political, economical or social. It is a vocation to render witness to Jesus here on this earth.
5. Our situation is one of conflict and of violence, of lack of security and of fear, of military occupation, of a wall of separation, of towns which are prisons, of humiliations. And we have to say that this situation has now been with us for too long. It is time that we win over violence in the spirits and hearts of individuals, in the leaders, in those who are sincerely committed to the defence of rights and acquisition of freedom. Indeed, in history there are always moments of war, of hands stained with blood, in order to win over countries, or to liberate them, or to establish empires. It is now a time for all humanity, for Palestine and for Israel, to win over the evil of violence present in each and every one, to ensure that a new society of brothers and sisters is born, in which no person would have to submit to another, in which no person would be occupied by another, in which no person would be a cause of lack of security for the other, in which no person would deprive the other of his freedom and of the right to live fully according to the dignity of a human person in his religious, national and political beliefs.
6. Brothers and sisters, let us pray for peace and justice in the hearts of all, Israelis and Palestinians. We have prayed and fasted. Other Churches in the world have prayed and fasted with us. We have asked them to be conscious of their responsibility and to bring about reconciliation founded upon justice and a sense of equality in this land which is at the roots of the faith of every Christian. We believe that God is good and that one day His goodness will win over all the evil of war, of hatred, of fear and of injustice in this land.
Let us pray for all political prisoners, let us pray that all walls of separation may fall down, the walls which encircle Bethlehem and the other Palestinian towns, but also the walls of hatred in the hearts of many. Let us pray for Iraq where so much bloodshed is taking place. Let us pray that God may ensure order and peace between different religions and different political groups. Let us pray that a new humanity can be born in our land and in the world, and that the peace of God may always reign. Amen.
+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch
Bethlehem, Christmas 2004