Christ among the rubble
An evangelical pastor in Bethlehem laments that Christians in the western hemisphere have become accomplices to the massacre in Gaza.
"Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." So said Jesus according to the Gospel. Now the people in Gaza are not to be underestimated. But from a Christian perspective, they are our brothers and sisters. So why are large parts of the "Christian West" not coming to their aid, not even raising a timid voice of protest? Why are the murderers still being cheered on from the sidelines? Is there no shame, no compassion, no sense of justice? And what about the Germans in particular, the moral paragons who, according to their self-assessment, "have learned from history"? This text by the Protestant priest Munther Isaak was delivered as a sermon at Christmas 2023 in Bethlehem. Some of the phrases in it still refer to Christmas, but this speech is not lacking in topicality.
by Manova's world editorial team
[This article posted on 1/18/2024 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.manova.news/artikel/christus-unter-den-trummern.]
We are angry. We are broken. This should have been a time of joy - instead we mourn. We are afraid. More than 20,000 were killed. Thousands are still under the rubble. Almost 9,000 children killed in the most brutal way (day after day ...), 1.9 million displaced, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed. Gaza as we know it no longer exists. This is annihilation. This is genocide.
The world is watching. Churches are watching. The people of Gaza are sending live pictures of their own execution. Maybe the world cares. But it goes on. We ask: "Could this be our fate here in Bethlehem? In Ramallah? In Jenin? Is this our fate too?"
The silence of the world torments us. Leaders of the so-called free gave the green light, one by one, to this genocide of a people in captivity. They covered up (for the attackers). By not only footing the bill up front, but also cloaking truth and context, they provide political cover.
However, another layer has been added: theological cover by Western churches. Our dear friends in South Africa explained to us the concept of state theology, namely the theological justification of the status quo with its racism, capitalism and totalitarianism through the misuse of theological concepts and biblical texts for their own political purposes. Here in Palestine, the Bible is used as a weapon against us - our very own sacred text.
In our terminology here in Palestine, we speak of empire. Here we confront the theology of empire, which is a cloak for superiority, supremacy, "chosenness" and entitlement. Sometimes the cloak consists of benign words like "mission and conversion", "fulfillment of prophecy" and "spreading peace and freedom".
The theology of empire becomes a powerful tool for reinterpreting oppression as "divine punishment". It speaks of a land without a people. It divides a people into "us" and "them", it dehumanizes and demonizes.
Again, the concept of the "land without a people", even though they know full well that there was a people on this land - and not just any people, but a very special people. The theology of empire calls for the evacuation of Gaza, just as it called for ethnic cleansing as a "miracle" or "divine miracle" in 1948. It calls on us Palestinians to go to Egypt or Jordan now - or why not into the sea? I think of the disciples' words to Jesus as he was about to enter Samaria:
"Lord, do you wish us to command fire from heaven to the earth to destroy the Samaritans?"
This is the theology of empire, this is what they say about us today.
This war confirms to us that the world does not see us as their equals. Maybe it's the color of our skin. Maybe we are on the wrong side of a political equation. Even our kinship in Christ offered us no protection. So they say, "If it takes the murder of 100 Palestinians to hit a single Hamas fighter, so be it." In their eyes, we are not human. In God's eyes, however, no one can call us that.
The hypocrisy and racism of the Western world is transparent and hair-raising. It always treats statements by Palestinians with suspicion and reservation, (...) while on the other hand their statements are almost always considered infallible - despite clear evidence of misinformation and lies.
To our European friends: I never, ever want to hear you lecture us on human rights and international law again. And I mean that seriously. According to your own logic, we are not white, I think.
In this war, the many Christians in the Western world have provided the necessary theology for the empire. They tell us "It's for their self-defense," and I can't stop asking how the murder of 9,000 children is self-defense. How can the expulsion of 1.9 million Palestinians be called self-defense? In the shadow of empire, they turn the colonizer into a victim and the colonized into aggressors. Have we forgotten - have we forgotten - that the state they are talking about, that this state was built on the ruins of the towns and villages of the very inhabitants of Gaza? Have they forgotten that?
We are outraged by the complicity of the Church. Friends, let us make it clear: silence is complicity. And empty calls for peace without the demand for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation, and shallow words of compassion without direct action - all under the banner of complicity.
So here is my message: today's Gaza has become the world's moral compass. Even before October 7, Gaza was hell - and the world was silent. Should we be surprised by their silence now?
If you are not horrified by what is happening in Gaza, if you are not shaken to the core, there is something wrong with your humanity. And if we as Christians are not outraged by the genocide and the misuse of the Bible as a weapon to justify this genocide, then there is something wrong with our Christian witness and we are jeopardizing the credibility of our gospel message.
If you do not call this genocide, you are guilty. It is a sin and a darkness that you are willingly complicit in. Some churches have not even called for a ceasefire.
I am sorry for you. We will get through it. Despite the great blow we have suffered, we, the Palestinians, will recover. We will rise again. We will rise again in the midst of destruction, as we have always done as Palestinians. Even though this may be the biggest blow we have received in a long time, we will get through it.
But I feel sorry for those who have been complicit. Will you ever recover from this? Your charity and your expressions of shock after the genocide will make no difference. And I know that those words of shock will come. And I know that people will give generously to charity. But your words will not make a difference. Your words of regret will not be enough. And let me say: we will not accept your apology that comes after the genocide. What has been done has been done. I want you to look in the mirror and ask yourselves: where was I when Gaza was experiencing genocide?
To all the joy present here: you left your families and churches behind to be here with us. You embody the expression "accompaniment", "costly solidarity". I think of Jesus' words:
"We were in captivity and you visited us."
What a world of difference from the silence and complicity of others that you are here. Your presence here is the meaning of solidarity. And your visit has already left an impression that can never be taken away from us. Through you, God has told us that we are not abandoned. As Father Rami of the Catholic Church said this morning: "You came to Bethlehem and, like the Magi, you brought gifts - gifts more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh. You brought the gift of love and solidarity. We feel that.
We needed this because we were shaken by the silence of God during this (Christmas) time, perhaps more than anything else. In these last two months, the laments became valuable companions for us. We cried out: "My God, my God, why have you left Gaza? Why do you hide your face from us?" In our suffering, our fear and our sorrow, we sought God and found him among the rubble in Gaza. Jesus himself was a victim of the very same violence of empire. When he was in our land, he was tortured, crucified; he bled to death while others looked on. He was killed and cried out in agony, "My God, where are you?"
In Gaza today, God is among the rubble. And this Christmas season, as we search for Jesus, he will not be found on the side of Rome, but on our part of the earth. He is in a cave. With a simple family, a family under occupation. He is vulnerable and miraculously survives a massacre by the skin of his teeth. He is among refugees, in a fugitive family. This is exactly where Jesus will be found today. If Jesus were to be born today, he would be born among the ruins of Gaza.
When we glorify pride and wealth, Jesus lies under rubble. When we rely on power, strength and weapons, Jesus lies under rubble. When we justify, rationalize and theologize the bombing of children, Jesus lies under rubble.
Jesus lies under rubble. This (pointing to a baby doll lying in a Palestinian shroud amidst rubble, see picture above) is his manger. He is at home with the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed and the displaced. This is his manger. And I looked at this symbolic image and thought about it. God with us - in exactly this way - that is the incarnation. Dirty, bloody, poor: this is the incarnation. And this child is our hope and inspiration. We see him in every child killed and pulled out from under the rubble. As the world continues to reject the children of Gaza, Jesus says:
"Whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me. You have done it to me."
Jesus doesn't just call them "his own", he is them. He is the children of Gaza.
We look at the Holy Family and see them in every displaced and wandering family, now homeless and desperate. While the world discusses the fate of the people of Gaza as if they were unwanted boxes in a garage, God shares their fate in the Christmas story. He walks with them and calls them "his own".
So this nativity scene is about resilience, about (... - minute 14:49). And Jesus' resilience lies in his gentleness, his weakness and his vulnerability. The majesty of the incarnation (whether he means Jesus by the incarnation is not entirely clear, but is obvious from the context) lies in solidarity with the marginalized. Resilience because this is the same child who rose in the midst of pain, destruction, darkness and death to challenge empires. To speak truth to power and win an everlasting victory over death and darkness. This very child accomplished this.
This is Christmas in Palestine today. And this is the Christmas message: Christmas is not about "Santas", about trees and presents and lights - my, how we have twisted the meaning of Christmas, how we have commercialized Christmas! By the way, I was in the USA last month. It was the first month after Thanksgiving, and I was amazed at the masses of Christmas decorations and lights and all the commercialism. And I couldn't help but think: they send us bombs and celebrate Christmas in their countries at the same time. They sing about the Prince of Peace in their country while they play the drums of war in ours.
Christmas in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is this manger. This is our message to the world today. It is a gospel message, a real and authentic Christmas message about a God who was not silent but sent his word, and his word was Jesus. Born among the occupied and marginalized, he stands in solidarity with us in our pain and brokenness. This is our message to the world today, and it is simple: this genocide must stop now. Let us all repeat it: Stop the genocide now. Can you say it with me? Stop the genocide now. And once again. Stop the genocide now!
This is our call, this is our plea, this is our prayer. Here, oh God. Amen.
Editor's note: This text first appeared as a video with the title "Christ Under the Rubble". It was translated by Gabriele Herb on a voluntary basis and proofread by the Manova volunteer proofreading team.