Holy Land Lutheran bishop: Many Middle East Christians feel squeezed from all sides

(Photo: Courtesy Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land)Evangelical Lutheran School of Hope – Ramallah's 2015 Christmas play.

Even though the world lives in dark times, the Holy Land Lutheran leader has invited people to find hope, peace and joy in the true meaning of Christmas this year.

"Salaam and grace to you this Christmas from the land of Jesus' birth," said Bishop Munib Younan in his 2015 Christmas message.

"There is no better time to speak about peace than at Christmas, when the Prince of Peace was born among us," said Younan who is the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

He noted that the "disturbing voice of John the Baptist is also a much-needed part of the Christmas story."

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"The threat of terror and war is felt in nearly every place around the globe - in Paris, in Beirut, in Mali, in Nigeria, in San Bernardino and other places."

Younan, who is president of the Lutheran World Federation observed that refugees are fleeing violence and persecution in great numbers.

He also noted that there are wars and rumors of wars coming to nations which once had good relations.

"Extremists are finding a voice and even followers in every religion. Here in the Middle East, many Christians are feeling squeezed from every side of the divide," said Younan.

He related that story heard at Christmas on the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem that was announced by an angel and told in the gospel of St. Luke (2:10-12).

"Do not be afraid," said the angel. "I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."

"This angelic announcement came as a shock to the shepherds in the fields that night. They were even afraid of the Good News!"

But as the Christmas season reaches full fervor around the world, holiday spirit is sadly lacking in the biblical city of Bethlehem, which Christians revere as the birthplace of Jesus, Breaking Israel News reported.

Bethlehem, just 10 kilometers south of Jerusalem, usually bustles with pilgrims and tourists so close to Christmas. This year, however, largely due to an upsurge in violence and terror in Israel and the West Bank, significantly fewer visitors have arrived.

Bethlehem hotels, usually 80-90 per cent full by the week preceding Christmas, have not even filled to half their capacity, said Palestinian officials.

Younan said that as the world gathers to celebrate the birth of Jesus it should also remember that the joyful news is also disturbing.

"It is clear that John the Baptist's prophetic words are for us today.

"Nations need to repent. Politicians needs to change their ways. Humanity must turn back to God.

"The path to peace, justice, and equality must be made straight – not only through goodwill and good feelings, but through good policy and good governments."

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Lutheran World Federation President Bishop Munib Younan to the main governing body of the LWF, its Council at the Ecumenical Center, Geneva on June 18, 2015.
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