THIS CHRISTMAS

This Christmas Palestinian Christians are leaving Bethlehem to settle in Cyprus. It is the only Christian majority country in the Middle East. Christians form about 75% of the country's total population. They are mostly Greek Orthodox. Other Palestinian Christians have been emigrating to Europe, Central America and the United States. They do not see any future for themselves as Christians among the preponderance of Muslims who hold a doctrinal anti-Christian agenda. There are probably only a few hundred Christians in Gaza, possibly 12,000 living in Jerusalem and about 40,000 living in Judea and Samaria. In the 20th century 20% of the middle east population was Christian. Now it is only 5%. Some suggest that Christianity will be eradicated from the land of its origin during this century.

The Christian heads of churches in Jerusalem continue to raise public concerns that the Christian presence and Holy Sites in Jerusalem are under threat. The statements identified pressure points on Christians that included violence and harassment against clergy and worshippers by ultra-Orthodox Israelis; vandalism and desecration of church properties; attempts by settler organisations to obtain strategic property in and around the Christian quarter of the Old City and the Mount of Olives; and restrictions on residency permits for Christian Palestinians as part of Israel’s Citizenship and Entry Law.

The Holy Land in 2017 was a peaceful and tolerant place. It was the opposite of media presentations of perpetual strife, trouble, street murder and large scale unrest. At present there are about 2,100,000 Arab citizens of Israel. The Israeli Parliament the Knesset with 120 seats has 11 Muslim members, 2 Christian members and 4 Druze members. Druze are ethnically Arab and Arabic speaking. Their monotheistic religion incorporates many beliefs from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and is also influenced by Greek philosophy and Hinduism.

This Christmas there is turmoil, bitter hatred and warfare between Hamas and Israel, between Muslims and Jews. The long history of the People of God is still being written in bloodshed. Jerusalem was destroyed in 597 BC and again in 70 AD. What are its chances of surviving the 21st century? The great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah explained ancient Israel’s misfortunes in terms of the disobedience of the rulers and people, their neglect of worship of God and their abandonment of the keeping of the Law. Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem on the grounds of His people’s rejection of Himself as Messiah. The Jews had not been true to their vocation to be a distinct and moral people adhering to the Living God, their Maker and Redeemer.

Jews were enabled to return to their ancient homeland in 1948 and they created the State of Israel. They are surrounded and vastly outnumbered by centuries old enemies. Israel is a semi-secular state defined by Israeli culture and the Hebrew language. Not all Jews by identity are practising Jews by faith. Much of the world is against Jews and many are against Israel. They are defended by the western once Christian democracies. The Scriptures say, ‘Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.’ (Proverbs 14 : 34)

Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt as refugees from the violent hatred and jealousy of King Herod. We become inoculated to the circumstances we see on television. For too many of our fellow human beings, the present times are those of life and death, survival or extinction. Our witness is to resurrection and eternal life through Jesus Christ. He can be described as Isaiah did. ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ (Isaiah 9 : 6) As Christians this is our inheritance of faith and understanding. There is continuity between Judaism and Christianity. There are centuries of prophetic fulfilment and centuries still to come.

Robert Anderson 2017

To contact Robert, please use this email address: replies@robertandersonchurch.org.uk