Unsettling Advent 2023, Day 16
“After Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’” (Matthew 2:19-20)
Over the last two months, we have watched Israeli and Palestinian civilians massacred in real time and great numbers — all from the safety and warmth of our homes and workplaces, due largely to the internet, social media, and television networks.
This man-made catastrophe capturing the world’s attention erupted on Oct. 7. I was leading a group of Americans on a tour of the Holy Land. On our first day, we had enjoyed visiting Christian ministries in Bethlehem. We were then scheduled to visit Herodium, a hill south of Bethlehem where Herod the Great built a grand castle and the site where he is buried. Early that day as we ate our breakfast, we heard rockets and explosions in the distance, and quickly learned that fighters from Hamas had fired rockets, crossed into Israel, killed soldiers and civilians, and took hostages. We knew then that our tour plans were going to be disrupted.
With some trepidation, we made the decision to move forward with our planned visit to Herodium, and we were the only tour group visiting on that day. As the day went on, knowledge of the day’s events invoked in me a sense of the conditions in the Holy Land during the time when Jesus was born.
We know from Matthew’s nativity narrative that when Herod learned from the wise men that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he told them to go find the babe and then return and inform him where he was so that he might “worship” the newborn king. When the angel of the Lord directed the wise men not to return to Herod and they complied, the king was outraged and ordered the slaughter of many children.
As we visited the palace of this great liar, deceiver, and mass murderer, little did we know that in the next two months we would watch news of Herod-like-leaders commit atrocities on the civilians of Gaza, leading to the death of over 8,000 children. Other world leaders — both directly and indirectly — lent a hand in the massacre of over 18,000 men, women, and children in Gaza.
Herod’s massacre of the children did not achieve his desire to destroy the baby born to be the Prince of Peace. Neither will the Israeli massacre of Palestinian children achieve Israel’s goal of forever subjugating the Palestinians and denying them the dignity and the freedom that they deserve.
Light is more powerful than darkness, and life is more powerful than death. The Palestinian people who aspire for freedom will overcome the darkness of today just as baby Jesus overcame the wrath of Herod. The Christmas story gives oppressed people around the world hope — hope that light, truth, and goodness will overcome evil.
Rev. Alex Awad is a retired minister who served as pastor at East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College. He is the author of Palestinian Memories.