“In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1. 4,5)
We, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, share with you the joy of this Christmas season of the Incarnation. Our physical closeness to the town of Bethlehem where this took place is a constant reminder to us of its wonderful reality. We praise God for the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ from the pure blood of the Blessed Virgin Mary and for her willingness to co-operate with his divine plan. We praise God for the Shepherds in the fields below Bethlehem – ordinary people of no rank or status who were chosen to be the first to hear the Good News of our Saviour’s birth. We praise God for the Angels with their message of glory to God and peace to men and women. We praise God for the Wise Men, kings from the East, through whom God’s Theophany was revealed to the nations.
It is sometimes easy to forget that the first Christmas took place in a context of considerable political instability. The occupying Roman Empire was a powerful reality and here in the Land of the Holy One there was a wide range of groups with competing claims and differing loyalties. The story of Herod’s retaliation against the children of Bethlehem reminds us that violence was common. The world into which Jesus came was not altogether different from the current situation here in the Middle East where we find ourselves today. Violence is seen as the only way to impose order and achieve security by some or as the only way to resist oppression and injustice by others. We firmly believe that violence is not the way and that the Jesus as the Prince of Peace came to show us not only how to be reconciled to God, but how to be reconciled to one another. Peace has to begin in the human heart as we recognize the common humanity which we share with every single person who has been created in God’s image.
In the first months of his life the child Jesus had to be taken by Mary and Joseph to Egypt as a refugee seeking a place of safety. This brings to our minds the many hundreds of thousands of people in this region who have felt compelled to make similar journeys as refugees, leaving behind their homes and all that is familiar to them in search of a more secure future. We invite you at this Christmas season to pray especially for them, for all the agencies of support which are sustaining them and for the leaders of our world as they seek to bring about a situation where the seeking of refuge will not be necessary.
In the midst of these sobering realities we rejoice that the light of Christ still shines – even in the very darkest places. As the divine Word became flesh in the child of Bethlehem, so we pray that God’s word of love, joy and peace will continue to become flesh today as we open our hearts and lives to his divine presence among us.
From the heartland of the Christian faith we wish you a joyful Christmas in the name of the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarchate
+Patriarch Norhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Daniel, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
+Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Mgr Joseph Antoine Kelekian, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate