Happy Birthday Jesus

There are things I remember about Christmas. Mom would always put the tinsel on the tree. Not that she loved to put the tinsel on the tree, but each piece was to be hung, one at a time, perfectly straight. This was not a task any of us children were gifted at, and dad would always find some chore, and on a farm there were many, to do. I remember lying under the tree and looking up at the lights. I remember the thick stockings with the vinyl bottoms from my grandmother. I remember milking the cows took longer on Christmas Eve because there was always extra effort put into making sure each cow had a generous helping of hay and grain on that night. There were always boxes under the tree that were the shape and relative dimensions of a brick, only a bit larger, they were the chocolate covered cherries.

Some things get passed on, some do not. I don’t use tinsel. Socks may not have the vinyl bottoms, but are usually included under the tree. The dog gets a special treat. And for at least one of my sons, Christmas is not complete without the chocolate covered cherries, not the expensive ones that come from the chocolate shop, but the sweet gooey ones with the fake looking red cherry juice, that come in the slightly larger than a brick shaped box.

I have a new memory for Christmas for this year. I went to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus in Luke (Matthew indicates that he was born in a house in Nazareth). I saw the marble slab, with the Silver Star, with the glass plate in the center where you can look down to see the rock on which the birth was to have taken place. You can look down through the glass, that is if no one is pushing and shoving you so they can have a chance to also see the marble with the silver star and glass. The star is located in a room under the altar area of three churches that share the space. The place is dirty because no one can agree on who’s job it is, or privilege it is, or method to be used, or time of day to, or what kind of sponge to use, or what songs to hum, if indeed one is allowed to hum, while centuries of soot is removed to reveal the beauty of the place. Happy Birthday Jesus.

To get into Bethlehem, you have to go through security. Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by a twenty-five foot high cement wall topped with concertina wire, complete with armed guards, security towers, gates, fences and a large sign that wishes you peace, from the Israeli department of tourism. On the other side of the wall there is a sign that says, “American money, Israeli Apartheid. Soon the fourth side of the wall will be completed turning the birth place of Jesus into a prison. The wall is paid for with U.S. money, you know, the bills that say, “In God We Trust.” Proving that is easier to say we trust in God than to actually “trust” in God. Interesting, in the first century BCE Christ was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn, in the twenty-first century CE, Christ would be born in a prison. In the first century BCE Herod tried to control the new born king by killing the young male children in this area. Today the powers that be try to control the place of the new born king with concertina wire and armed guards. Humanity really has not come very far and may have actually gone backwards.

Right now the powers that be are working on solutions to the Mid-East “Problem.” The biggest success so far is that they have agreed at the last minute on the wording of the press release saying they are willing to sit down and discuss the problem. There is the two state solution, the three state solution, the Palestinian problem, the West Bank Problem, and the problems with the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Everywhere you look there are problems and proposed solutions. And of course you can’t have a solution unless there is a problem to be solved.

While traveling in Germany there was one holiday when the busses did not run full schedule. It was German unification day, the day they celebrate their wall coming down. I know we traveled into former East Germany, but I couldn’t tell you where the border used to be, it is not something they want to keep track of. The people were happy it was down. Friends and relatives could get together, infrastructures built, jobs created, and relationships formed. Here in the U.S. we were happy when the wall came down also, and even tried to claim some credit for what churches and crumbling economies did in bringing down the wall. I have to ask myself a stupid question, “If we were so happy about the German wall coming down, why are we spending billions building walls in Israel/Palestine and our own southwest?”

Perhaps it is because we see these areas as problems to be solved rather than relationships to be mended. What Christ came to teach us is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Being a Christian means we spend each day discovering in a bit broader sense, just what that means. In our southwest, families are divided because of the wall. In the Mid-East families are divided also. If we go back to Abraham, we see that Ishmael and Isaac, the progenitors of the different factions in the Mid-East, were brothers. Instead of walls of separation, perhaps what is needed is new ways of seeing one another as brothers and sisters. Perhaps our tax money could be better spent buying slightly larger than a brick shaped boxes of chocolate covered cherries for everyone divided by walls, and maybe throwing in some hammers so they can start tearing them down. After a long day of beating on cement, they could get together with their brothers and sisters on the other side of the walls and share the sweets with one another. Tired bodies, laughing, fake looking red cherry juice stuck to their teeth and tears of laughter running down their faces. Brothers and sisters together again, looking forward to the holiday that celebrates their wall coming down, memories loosing track of where it used to be, and a society learning with it truly means to say, “In God We Trust.” Happy Birthday Jesus.


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