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They are mothers just like us

We live in a world of seemingly irreconcilable divisions and conflicts that take lives and spoil lives. So, it is very encouraging to hear of a Palestinian Christian mother, living in Bethlehem, who has taking steps to bridge one of the great divides in today’s world. She is building relationships with Israeli mothers through Musalaha, a faith-based organisation that facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

When she was a young mother with three children, she went on a desert trip to Jordan. She said, “It was wonderful. It was really amazing, enjoying the desert and the nature. But before I went, I thought: ‘How can I meet with my enemy, how can I speak to the Israelis?’ I was suffering a lot at this time because of the war, the second intifada. It was a terrible time in our lives with shooting, tanks, and curfews. It was really hard to wake up in the morning and find bullets outside your house and worry that the next night you might be hit.” One night her mother prayed for her and she said, “I saw God and he comforted me, and this pain went. It was the only thing that helped.”

On the desert trip she heard Israeli mothers sharing how they had only just moved to Israel from Europe or America. She said, “It was hard. For the first day I couldn’t look at them or speak to them or enjoy being with them. I just thought: ‘You have come here and taken our land and now you are having fun. We cannot go out of Bethlehem. We are suffering, and you moved here and are living a peaceful life.’” But on the second day she started to look at them as human beings and thought: “It’s not them; it’s their government. It’s not them; it’s what they believe and have been taught. So, I started to see them as people and things changed in my heart.”

Now she goes to monthly meetings with young mothers where they learn about each other. She hears Israeli mothers talking about their fears. Their lives are not perfect either. She says, “Now I see that the Israelis are good people. They are mothers just like us and they have Jesus in their heart. Meeting together gives us the opportunity to be together and get to know each other rather than building a wall between us. I hope that in the future we can all live peacefully together and eat with each other, that we won’t look at each other as either Palestinian or Israeli, just as followers of Jesus and as human beings.”

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Thought

Immanuel – “God with us”

Some families in Newtown, Connecticut, have taken down their Christmas decorations. It is their understandable response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last week a young gunman shot 20 children, aged 6-7 years old, and 6 adults, including the head teacher. Many people around the world have shared something of the pain and anguish of the families who have lost children and loved ones. The fact that young children were killed so close to Christmas has deepened the sadness.

Christmas in our secular world is a strange time. It comes in the darkest days of winter and, for many, involves spending large amounts of money. For those who are poor it accentuates the difference between them and their richer neighbours. In a secular celebration of Christmas, however, there is nothing to touch the deepest recesses of our hearts and the pain and sadness that many in this world experience.

The event that Christmas really celebrates, however, speaks to us all in every experience of life. It truly is something to remember and celebrate. The birth of Jesus is the focal point of history. He was no ordinary child. He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit because he was both God and man. He is “Immanuel” which means “God with us.”

That is exactly what we all need to know, and especially the families in Newtown who have lost their children and loved ones so tragically. It is good that they are finding real comfort in the support of the community and of people in America and around the world. But as time goes on, and life returns to the new “normal”, they will need to know that God really is with them in their sadness and loss.

Jesus is uniquely able to understand and help us in our times of deepest need. When he was a baby there was a plan to kill him. Soon after he was born an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream saying, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Herod did send his soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill all boys under the age of 2. Their families were devastated. This Christmas let’s pray that the bereaved families in Newton, and all of us, will know that, in Jesus, God really is “with us.”