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Saturday, December 24, 2005


The Defiant Spirit of Christmas

The Defiant Spirit of Christmas

Some of our people ask how can we celebrate Christmas
with all the closures and checkpoints,
with all the injustice and oppression,
with all the violations of human rights,
with the presence of a wall that separates families and friends,
and a multitude of hardships that the occupation imposes to make people's lives miserable,
how can we speak of love, peace and joy when most of our people and millions of others around the world do not experience liberty and peace?

The questions are legitimate. Yet Christmas and New Year must be a time of renewal, of hope and anticipation, of determination and zeal to work for a better world where people can experience these essential qualities of life. Therefore, wherever empire exists and the powers that be are in control through domination, there is a greater responsibility for all of us to take a stand against all that dehumanizes people and to work for their liberation.

The Christmas story is a story of a liberating God who comes to join an oppressed people in the work of liberation. God's message through the angels is a message of defiance. In spite of the presence of empire, human arrogance, and oppression, God is announcing peace and goodwill. This is God's agenda. Glory belongs to God and not to the emperor nor to the powers. Once that is genuinely acknowledged, peace is not far away.

It is in the midst of the Roman occupation that the Incarnation took place; it is in spite of the occupation that Mary and Joseph found joy and love in the birth of Jesus; it is in spite of the occupation and in the midst of economic hardships that the shepherds came to visit a family of modest means and discovered great joy and peace; it is in spite of the occupation that the Magi came to offer their gifts to the child.

We celebrate in the midst of the occupation and in spite of it. Through our celebration we defy the occupation;
we defy the injustice;
we defy the oppressors;
we defy the powers.

They do not possess the last word,
they can build high walls, but they cannot take away our hope,
they can put us in jail, but they cannot take away our joy,
they can prevent us from visiting family, but they cannot take away our love,
they can stop us at checkpoints and impose all kinds of restrictions, but
they cannot take away our pursuit of freedom and liberation,
they can prevent us from going to Bethlehem, but they cannot prevent the
spirit of Bethlehem from reaching us,
they can treat us as nonhumans, but they cannot crush our spirit nor can
they take away our God-given human worth and dignity,
they can act with hate and disgust but, by the grace of God, we can always
refuse to stoop to the level of hate and maintain our love of God and
neighbor that includes them.

Therefore Christmas makes us defiant.
We defy the evildoers because we believe in the goodness which they are
capable of doing,
we defy hate because we believe in the power of love and forgiveness,
we defy despair because we believe in life and hope,
we defy violence and terror - both state and individual - because we
believe in the power of peace and nonviolence,
we defy war and the occupation of other people's lands because we believe
in the power of peaceful methods based on international law and legitimacy,
we defy and challenge those who humiliate and degrade others because we
believe in the dignity of every human being.

The Incarnation took place when God took on our humanity, when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This happened in Palestine under Roman occupation. Then as now and in spite of all the hardships, we celebrate Christ's birth, Emmanuel, God with us, giving us hope, joy, peace, and love.

We are defiant. We are full of hope. We will continue to work for peace through justice.

Naim Ateek
Sabeel, Jerusalem
December 14, 2004

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