As we approach Christmas, we remember that Bethlehem is a real place with real people whose struggles are not dissimilar from Roman occupied Palestine in the first century. We also remember that the nativity story, and the subsequent response of Herod, is a story of sanctuary, forced migration, and every day families subject to the violent whims of powerful state actors.
Below are two images that the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network (MennoPIN) is inviting us to ponder this year. Both are new works by the street artist Banksy in Bethlehem. Note the crowbar in the hands of the angel attempting to create an opening in the separation wall. The “Peace on Earth*” sign with the Christmas star asterisk is on the door of a new business venture: “The Walled Off Hotel,” which boasts “The worst view in the world,” the towering concrete separation wall around Bethlehem. It hopes to bring in Israeli and international tourists, providing jobs and drawing attention to the daily life of locals living in the Occupied Territories.
Below that is an image of Jose y Maria (Joseph and Mary) by the artist Everett Patterson. See how many nativity references you can find (e.g., Mary’s sweatshirt says “Nazareth High School.”)
This is our world. Today.
So too is the astounding birth of Jesus who proclaimed a kingdom defined by loving kindness and justice. So too is the persistence of a people who believe that the angelic proclamation of “peace on earth” is our life’s work and hope.