God of grace, today we pray for peace for the city of Bethlehem.
It has had more than its share of conflict,
as it changed from a little town
to a bustling city visited by millions each year.
You know the walls that separate people in Bethlehem;
walls of concrete, walls of prejudice, walls of hatred,
walls between Israeli and Palestinian,
walls between Jew and Christian and Muslim,
walls between cultures and languages.
We can hardly think of another place on earth
with such high walls and such deep hostility.
Yet this is where you were born:
your everlasting light still shines in those dark streets.
Thank you that your light shines
in the goodwill of people who do not return evil for evil.
We see it in the patience of people who wait for a better future,
and the creativity of people who make plans for peace,
even as powers and principalities make plans for war.
Your hope grows in refugee camps and narrow city streets.
It is nurtured in churches around the world
who pray for peace in Bethlehem.
Bulldozers and tanks can’t crush that hope.
Laws and regulations can’t stifle that hope.
Blockades and barricades can’t stop that hope.
Bombs and guns can’t blow it up.
At Christmas as the eyes of the world turn to Manger Square,
we remember the birth of the Prince of peace.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of the heavens.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
O holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell,
oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.”
[the last eight lines are by Philips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.
He wrote this hymn” in 1867 as he reflected on his visit to Manger Square in Bethlehem.]