It has arrived. For thousands of years people look forward to this dawn. For the people in darkness have seen a great light. The moon has grown this week from a cupped hand to a dangling half circle—and now, on this longest night, is a protruding a belly, proudly sailing pregnant in the sky. This shortest day has passed, and the promise of more light is upon us.
We in Palestine are waiting—when will the baby be born? Our hearts dare to hope. This child appears to authorities as illegitimate, it doesn’t have a passport or even a green card.
In Jesus’ time as well as in our present time, forces of darkness proliferate. Ramallah Friends call Mary, the Lady of Palestine. She lived all her life under the harsh rule of the Roman Empire. She lived among armed soldiers, laws that discriminated against her people, in a foreign language that dictated her life. She couldn’t give birth at home in Nazareth, due to the heavy taxation of Caesar Augustus. Yet we are told that even while denied her basic human rights, Mary witnessed to the goodness alive for her in ‘this world of woe.’
Mary claimed in Occupied Palestine the humble will find freedom, the poor will be fulfilled, the comfortable will be cast aside. This was Our Lady’s message (Luke 1:46). The woman who birthed and raised Jesus voiced her vision and belief in justice. The birth happened in Bethlehem with a brightness in the sky that shocked kings and laborers. I guess every birth is a miracle, but especially the firstborn, and especially under the haze of occupation. I can imagine the breath of sheep, the sticky breastmilk, the lilting murmurs of the parents above the boots and shouts of the soldiers. The love in this family delivered them from bondage—sight was returned to those in fear or living in blindness.
Yet even within the bestial occupation 2,000 years ago, another horror came to past. Herod proclaimed that all male infants under 2 years old should be killed. Boom. Racism. Slaughter. Ethnic cleansing. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, we are told, Mary, Jesus and Joseph escaped to Egypt. Probably many others left the land to hide from the carnage. Did others go to Jordan, to Iran, to Syria? Did they become displaced within their own homeland? The Jewish family became refugees, and as immigrants resettled in a strange land, welcomed in Egypt with traditional Arab hospitality.
After some years as refugees, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, despite the Occupation, were able to return to Palestine. Imagine the homecoming when the family returned to Nazareth! The hills must have rung out and the olive trees shook to the bottom of their roots. Jesus must have experienced amazing joy to be among his extended family, to move freely, to have love flow in the dry valleys. In a desperate situation that looked hopeless, Mary found a way out. She did not become a victim of the Occupation. She was struggling for justice 30 years before Jesus started his ministry.
Under the pregnant moon, I am about to leave the Occupation. If I say the right phrases at customs, Israel may not penalize me for working with Palestinians. I have accompanied the oppressed and listened to their horrors. I visited the Jews and the settlers, hearing their yearning to let go of being oppressors. Jews live in settlements and villas, many wanting to reverse the laws that not only discriminate against Palestinians, but are renting the soul of Jewish people.
The occupation is 48 years old. Many Palestinians haven’t seen the sea; Jews have been banned from holy sites; smuggling, spies and lies abound. The land is bruised, desert winds moan. It’s time for refugees to come home. It’s time to lift the chains. We can’t just declare an end to military rule and Israel withdraw. A clear path of reconciliation needs to be paved. The darkest night is here, but the sun returns. The captives shall be released. The streams in the desert will flow again. I hear the voice in the wilderness, and I will turn my life around. Will you join me?