When Justice Will Prevail over Aggression? (By Mikhail Rishmawi)December 19, 2023
Celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem (By Haytham Dieck)December 19, 2023
Do not be Afraid!
John S. Munayer & Samuel S. Munayer
With the genocide continuing in Gaza, the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank, and the threat against all Palestinians wherever they live, we are all living in fear. For many of us, we have never been more fearful, feeling the fear in various parts of our bodies. We are fearful of being killed, displaced, arrested, fired, and more importantly, scared that something will happen to our children and loved ones. Indeed, many of us are thinking of leaving the land, or are trying to do so already. We have also witnessed that fear silence many people around the world and even in the leadership of the Palestinian evangelical community. Many of us know that Christian Zionists fund them. As we enter the Christmas period, what can the story of the birth of Jesus Christ tell us about fear?
Comparable to the Christmas story, we too live under occupation, with a paranoid and corrupt leader who seeks to remain in power and does not hesitate to commit massacres against children. In many ways, our personal experience as Palestinians, allows us to read and connect to the Christmas story in a new and unique way. Children being murdered in the thousands by Empires is unfortunately not a foreign reality for us. We therefore want to focus on one key component of the Christmas story, and that is fear.
Amid all the evil that exists in the Christmas story, as well as interpersonal complexities, the angel of God tells four different characters not to be afraid: Zechariah, Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds. While the context of each of these characters is different, there are lessons to be learned about fear from all of them.
- Even in the vilest contexts, when all hope seems to be lost, God is still active in the world. He sees and witnesses all that takes place, and actively gets involved, even if it is not clear to our human eyes. For example, in the Christmas story he sees the evil military occupation and the massacre of children, and earlier warns the Holy Family. He operates in places and times that we do not expect. In our context, he sees the genocide of Gaza and the people who do not think God cares or sees them. He sees the doctors saving people’s lives, the journalists risking their lives to report the news, and entire families who get annihilated by the Empire’s bombs. God is neither silent nor passive about this. We need not be afraid for he is at work. Even if it does not feel like it or obvious to us.
- A key component of the fear in the Christmas story is the fear of the glory of God present in the revelation of the angel. Certainly, many of us would be fearful of such sight of an angel and the glory of God. In many ways, this reminds us that God is the creator of the universe whose reign is more powerful and mighty than any empire or army. He is greater than any American or Israeli power on this earth; a frightening reminder for us all. Yet, his power is not to be feared as oppressed people, he uses his power to liberate our souls and bodies from all oppression and alienation.
- “Do not be Afraid” is not just a statement to ease people’s feelings in the Christmas story, it is also a command to continue the work, walk, and struggle of being faithful to God. It is a call to the faithful, to trust in God’s plan of salvation and liberation. Fear will never leave our minds and bodies completely, especially as bombs rain above our heads, guns are pointed at us, and we are threatened in all sorts of ways. We therefore should also understand the phrase: Do not be Afraid, as God encourages us not to give up, to be steadfast, to trust that he is working for good and liberation. It is a call not to be silent and passive, but faithful to our calling as Palestinian Christians to be ambassadors of justice and reconciliation.
At the end of the day, we will not get rid of fear completely. Our people are being massacred and ethnically cleansed. However, this Christmas we are all invited to think about the phrase: Do not be Afraid, in a new way. In a way that can strengthen our calling to stay in this land and work for the Kingdom of God in the horrific circumstances that many of us have experienced. Do not be Afraid!