Erin Sessions, writer and lecturer at Morling Theological College, challenges us to break down walls of exclusion this Christmas.

As soon as people started building cities we figured out how to put walls around them. You might be interested to know, we did it way before Babylon and well before the Jericho of biblical times. Archaeologists have found remains of city walls dating back to the Neolithic period – that’s over 9,000 years ago.

Fast forward to the modern era, and what have we done since the fall of the Berlin wall? Yep, you guessed it: we built more walls. A Reuters analysis shows that countries in Europe have built or started constructing 1,200 km of anti-immigrant fencing at a cost of at least 500 million euros.  Then, just recently in the United States, we’ve seen Donald Trump elected with repeated promises to “build a great wall”. And here in Australia, with our treatment of asylum seekers, we’ve constructed less of a wall and more of a moat, that still achieves the same exclusion. Humans build walls to keep other humans out.

But what do I know about walls? And what has this got to do with Isaiah 2:1-5? Not a lot and quite a lot. In January 2013, I had the immense privilege of travelling to Israel. I couldn’t wait to see the stratification at Jericho, the ‘cradle of archaeology’–Megiddo, the gilded buildings of Jerusalem, and I expected to be deeply moved by the Sea of Galilee.

What I wasn’t expecting, was to be profoundly affected by the ‘separation barrier’ (for most of its length it’s a fence and in some places it’s an imposing concrete wall) along the west bank.

Sometimes this internationally and generationally horrific war – for it is a war – is simplified in description to one side wanting the wall and the other side not wanting the wall. It’s been said that for Israelis the wall is protection from terrorism and for Palestinians it is the “Berlin Wall.” Only, it is far more fraught than that.  And I am certainly no expert. All I have is my own experience.

I asked men and women; Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists; Israelis, Palestinians, Armenians – pretty much any people living in or near the west bank and who were willing to chat with me – what they thought of the wall. No one I spoke to wanted it. Not a one.

Instead, many of the people I spoke to long for a time when God “will settle disputes for many peoples.” A time when “nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” A time when humans “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” and the bricks that made up our walls will be used to make terraced gardens. And we will walk in the light.

In the meantime, we are celebrating Christmas in a world where walls – where exclusion – not only still exists, but is commonplace. Yet, as with all things, we have the opportunity to shake up these commonplace walls with common grace. (See what I did there?)  

How? What can we do to be present with those who have been walled off? Pray. Pray for them. Pray with them. Pray for people in your community, people in Australia, people who have been excluded from Australia, people overseas.

And we can show compassion. Be compassionate. In his much-quoted work ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ Walter Brueggemann writes, “Compassion… announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness.” So, if you’re like me and you long to couple your faith with deeds, then actively explore how you can volunteer or financially support those organisations that serve and advocate for the marginalised in your local area.

When we are present with those who have been walled off, we start to break down our own walls too.  For, as the wisdom of the advocacy sector has long reminded us, and Lilla Watson articulated most eloquently, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Erin Sessions is a writer, and lecturer at Morling College. Image credit: Lewis Crutchley

Daily Reading Isaiah 2:1-5

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
    the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
    let us walk in the light of the Lord.

An Advent series on "Being Present"