Celebrating Advent and Christmas amid a war
Soon after, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land reposted the letter.
Because there is a Lutheran presence in Jordan and the Holy Land, I had been following the news about Israel and Palestine carefully, especially from the angle of Lutherans experiencing the oppressive impact of settler colonialism.
I’ve been especially attentive to the posts of Mitri Raheb, Lutheran pastor and prolific author, whose books on Palestine have been formative for my own view of the region.
I read the letter a few times (I encourage you to read it for yourself), and then sat down to pray. I’ll be honest, the first few times I read it I had trouble processing it. It’s all just too much.
I realized I needed to put the letter in front of our church council to see how, as a congregation, we might want to respond in solidarity.
Although at first read the letter “feels” like an invitation to “cancel” Christmas, that’s not actually what the letter asks for, and I was thankful to one of our council members who responded:
I find lists helpful. These are the specific asks made in the statement from the patriarchs and heads of churches:
–Forgo unnecessarily festive activities
–Focus liturgical celebrations on the spiritual meaning of Christmas
–Hold those affected by the war in our thoughts
–Pray fervently for peace for the Holy Land
–Advocate, pray, and donate generously for the relief of victims of war and those in dire need
–Encourage others to join in this mission of mercy
Perhaps we could map our ideas to these 6 things.
We continued to dialogue for about a day over text and in person. Listening more to the breadth of how our church council was prayerfully striving to act in solidarity with the ask of the church leaders in Jerusalem, I summarized all the input in the following way:
I’m thankful for the responses and in particular for the list. Here’s a recommendation on what I think we could do:
-Adapt our December 3rd Advent Party and re-christen it as a Soup and Advent Vigil. We invite the whole community to join us for a free soup supper followed by an Advent Vigil. We can invite those attending to contribute with material donations for the cold weather shelters, or a financial gift toward Lutheran Disaster Response, who is supporting Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem as staff members secure medical supplies to treat patients in Gaza.
-During the vigil, we provide resources for attendees to make an ornament to hang on the tree that offers prayers for those affected by war, prayers for peace in the Holy Land, etc.
-We reduce our Christmas decorations this year from previous, and focus on the tree which becomes a location for visual prayers. We will forgo a tree in the sanctuary this year, instead focusing our attention to the manger scene at the center of the worship space (a visual focus for prayers for the Holy Land), and locate a “working” Christmas tree out in the narthex to hang the prayers. We may also surround that tree with coats and cold weather items until they are taken to the shelters.
-We provide the soups. Ideally a core group of about eight people inclusive of some council members prepares the soups, so that we can simply invite the community to come and eat and pray.
-Church staff and the Monday morning crew will pick up the rest of the “preparing the building for Christmas” that we had originally suggested doing at the Advent party.
As I re-read this description of our plans, it still feels far less than enough, but it also is something, and I have to believe that doing something, even if it is just praying, is worthwhile. Palestinian leaders have asked us to pray, so I will try and trust that praying is indeed solidarity.
Throughout this most recent escalation of the horrendous conflict between Israel and Palestine, I’ve struggled as a pastor (and as a person) with how to stand in solidarity with Palestinians like Mitri Raheb living under Israeli occupation, while also acknowledging the complexity and political consequences of widespread antisemitism.
I’m thankful for a community of discernment who, with intentionality and vulnerability, arrived at a set of next steps that we hope is both authentic and genuinely responsive to the asks of the Jerusalem church leaders.
I’ve written up an invitation to our soup and vigil and made it an event on Facebook. I describe it as follows:
Join us at 5 p.m. for a free soup supper open to the community. At 6 p.m. we will host an Advent Vigil. As a congregation seeking to respond to the “Statement on the Celebration of Advent and Christmas in the midst of the war” by the heads of the churches in Jerusalem, who have asked that we:
-Forgo unnecessarily festive activities
-Focus liturgical celebrations on the spiritual meaning of Christmas
-Hold those affected by the war in our thoughts
-Pray fervently for peace for the Holy Land
-Advocate, pray and donate generously for the relief of victims of war and those in dire need
-Encourage others to join in this mission of mercy
At the Vigil, we will offer time to create “visual prayers,” ornaments participants can decorate and inscribe and hang on the tree.
During the Vigil, we invite material donations for cold weather shelters (coats and shoes are especially welcome), and we will take up a collection for Lutheran Disaster Response, who is currently assisting Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem as staff members secure medical supplies to treat patients in Gaza.
The ornament station will remain up throughout the Advent season. Add your additional prayers during worship Sunday morning or mid-week when you stop by the campus.
A reporter from NPR recently called me to ask about our planned response to the letter from Jerusalem leaders. She asked if I knew what plans other communities of faith were making in response to the letter.
Honestly, I didn’t have a good answer for her. I haven’t heard. So, if you are reading this, can you share with us what your local communities of faith are doing in response to the six asks in the letter?
Read the Lutheran World Federation Statement:
Read the November 16 statement from the United Nations:
Read Mitri Raheb’s latest book: