Justice and peace in Bethlehem

Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.


Rev. Katherine Rainger is a priest, chaplain, teacher and theologian. She is a member of Friends of Sabeel Australia, a group associated with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem, and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network. Katherine has recently submitted her doctoral thesis where she explored the intersection between theology and the collaborative cinematic works of Rolf de Heer and David Gulpilil.

Justice and peace in Bethlehem

Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.

Daily Reading Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.

He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The season of Advent is an invitation to wait, to pay attention, to anticipate and to participate. We wait to welcome the Christ-child again through story, song and celebration. We are attentive to the signs of God in our midst. We anticipate the coming of the reign of Christ in all its fullness. And we participate in the work of Christ in the here and now by committing ourselves to love of God and love of neighbour.

With all that I have just written in mind, it is the image of the journey towards Bethlehem that resonates most strongly with me as Advent begins. In recent years, this journey has come to include Bethlehem in 2019 as well as Bethlehem in the early first century.

In 2013 I was fortunate enough to participate in an archaeological dig in Bethsaida, Israel. It was an idyllic time. Early starts, digging, sifting, and finding ancient coins and pottery shards quickly became routine. As did afternoon swims in the Sea of Galilee. Visiting pilgrimage sites around Israel was incredible. The fact that Jesus was a first-century, Jewish man was made tangible and I wrestled with what this meant for my faith and how best to integrate what I had learnt.

The final week of my trip provided a contrast that awakened me to a different reality. I attended an international young adults conference in Bethlehem, Palestine, run by Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian organisation. There I worshipped Christ with Palestinian Christians and Christians from forty other countries. Something else happened that week. I listened to the testimonies of theologians, environmentalists, former Israeli soldiers, human rights advocates and economists about the costs of the Israeli military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Participating in acts of solidarity, such as walking through an Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem that tourist buses normally drive straight through, were confronting and eye-opening. The irony was that I had come all the way from Australia, and yet had more freedom of movement and access to Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem than some of the conference participants who lived in Bethlehem and required a permit to travel the 9km.

This experience made me long for justice and peace in Israel-Palestine – something which I continue to long for. This short video called Open Your Heart contains images and stories from contemporary Bethlehem which make connections between Jesus’ birth and the current situation. Longing for peace is a common theme.

In the video, Rana Salman, a peace activist, draws on the image from Isaiah 9:6 to reflect on the birth of Jesus, “The Prince of Peace being born in the most troubled land on earth, it has a significance, maybe.”

The desire for peace is an ancient as well as contemporary one. In Isaiah’s volatile context the prophet urges his hearers to trust God. The vision he presents is that God will act and bring about restoration and peace in an unexpected way, through a child. (Isaiah 9:2-7). In the birth of Christ, we see God continuing to act, restore and heal in unexpected ways. My prayer is that in welcoming the Christ-child this Advent we might also be attentive to all peoples who long for justice and peace, including those who live in Bethlehem today.

Go Deeper

The Global Church Project features Areej Masoud, a Palestinian Christian and student at Bethlehem Bible College. Listen to Areej discuss her experience of the Israel-Palestine situation here: https://theglobalchurchproject.com/video/areej-masoud-video/


We Are Longing: An Advent series from Common Grace