Life in the land of Jesus is anything but peaceful today.
Yet, his birth was announced some 2,000 years ago by a multitude of angels, saying "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, good will toward men!" (Luke 2:14 NKJV.)
For three years, Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders have lived and worked among Arab Christians in the Palestinian communities, teaching in a Catholic school. As their last Christmas approaches and they prepare to return to the United States, they ponder the emotions and struggles of constant turmoil, suicide bombings and military reprisals.
To their friends stateside, the Sanders'
send a message titled "The Prince of Peace in a Land without Peace," beginning
with these familiar lines:
Who: Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders, Presbyterian missionaries.
• What: Documentary, "Salt of the Earth: Palestinian Christians in the Northern West Bank."
• When: 7 p.m. Jan. 7.
• Where: St. John's United Methodist Church, 1501 Univesity Ave.
• More information: www.saltfilms.net for 2004 schedule, photos and journals.
"This song stirs sweet memories in many of us ... a warm expectant feeling, nostalgia for the joys of Christmases past and anticipation for those of the future. What a beautiful picture it evokes, a peaceful, beautiful hamlet blessed with the wondrous birth of the Christ.
"But the reality back then must have been
quite different. Imagine living under Roman occupations, with a local dictator
who in a few days would order the murder of all baby boys. Imagine walking
and riding on donkey back for miles and miles while nine months pregnant
because of a no-exceptions government order.
"Today, as we look at Bethlehem we see neither a pretty nor a hopeful picture: Desolate streets, closed businesses, demolished buildings. Imagine living under a military occupation, being out of work for three years, not permitted to travel out of your town and sometimes, not allowed out of your home for days at a time.
"Not a very pretty nor a very hopeful picture."
"But again, this can be the context of miracle. Christmas reminds us that God comes in the most unexpected ways and turns our expectations upside down.
"We, and our brothers and sisters in Christ here, pray that this may be one of those times, that this hopeless and violent time may become the context for a miracle of peace."
They finish their three years in Zababdeh "with mixed emotions over leaving this beautiful, suffering land."
Knowing first-hand the level of violence, they leave with worry, fear and sadness about what will happen to the friends and neighbors they have come to love.
But they also depart with a blessing, a remembrance that "the season of Advent is a time when the miraculous hope of incarnation reigns.
"Let us open our hearts and minds and spirits
to the astounding message carried by the Word becoming Flesh. Let
us know - really know - that God knows the depths and details of
our darkest fears and pains; that God not only knows these feelings, but
also feels these feelings.
"And let us pray that the Prince of Peace would bring much-needed succor to this land at this most unlikely time."
One thing the couple brings back with them - a documentary that they hope will help American Christians understand more about the conflict and its consequences.
These are messages from Palestinian Christians to their Christian brothers and sisters in America: