Beloved People of God,
On October 7, 2023, Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a series of coordinated attacks, conducted by the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas, from the Gaza Strip, onto bordering areas in Israel, began. These attacks coincided with the Jewish Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which many Israeli Jews were celebrating. Rockets, drone attacks, the killing of civilians, and the taking of hostages have ignited long and simmering tensions between Israel and Palestine. Israel has responded with ongoing rocket attacks and the death toll on all sides rises daily. The attacks were nearly fifty years to the day after the Yom Kippur War that began on October 6, 1973.
Our hearts grieve at the resurgence of violence that bereaves both Israeli and Palestinian families. We long for peace and security for the people of Israel, who seek a safe place to live free from discrimination, antisemitism, and repeated pogroms. We long for peace and security for the Palestinian people who also long to live in safety, to thrive free from occupation and discrimination. Neither have found that peace and seem to be enmeshed in a cycle of hatred and conflict.
Because of the scale of this conflict, the pilgrimage that I was planning on leading in February has been cancelled. We look toward another, more peaceful time for such a pilgrimage.
While this is disappointing, it pales in comparison to what we have witnessed as Israelis and families around the world agonizingly waiting for word about the fate of loved ones killed or taken hostage by Hamas. Currently, there is a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza as Israel blocks food, water, fuel, and medical supplies and as airstrikes continue to cause unbearable civilian casualties. As ELCA Bishop Eaton shares, “It is difficult to find words that suffice in the complexity of this moment, and the web of relationships that bind us together as a church, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and our interreligious partners. Yet God has called us to be a people who stand with others amid suffering.”
It is difficult to find the right words. In the face of grief and violence we offer this prayer shared by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada....
God of peace and justice,
Our hearts weep as the rockets fall in Israel and Gaza,
As families are bereaved,
As men, women, and children are taken hostage,
As anger and hatred are fueled again.
In the land you chose for your people and your Son we pray
For those bereaved by the violence,
For the wounded and the injured,
For the hostages,
That your love will surround and comfort them.
We pray for strength and compassion, For all offering medical care, especially our partners, the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital and Augusta Victoria Hospital.
We pray for Bishop Sani Azar and Archbishop Hosam Naoum and all Christians in the Holy Land, for their safety and their leadership in this time of crisis.
We pray for all leaders in Israel and Palestine that a just and lasting peace will be found.
In the midst of our grief and sorrow we trust in your unfailing love for all people, and for your Land, and ask that your wisdom would prevail, for we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who bring the world eternal peace.
The simple fact is, we need, God’s Word. We need to hear the Word of Good News of the God who liberates us and calls us to be a liberating witness. I invite you to worship with us this Advent, to hear God’s Word through a series entitled, Heaven and Earth.
Heaven and Earth, is our Advent sermon and worship series based on the mystery, surprise, and earthshaking good news of the Incarnation. Advent is the Christian New Year. As the world’s year ends, the Christian year begins—four weeks to take time, mark time, and make time differently from the way the world keeps time. The appointed Advent scriptures are an answer to a number of New Year’s questions: Are we ending or beginning? Are our human efforts the only agency in history? Have we come to the end of the road, or is something new afoot? Is it the same old thing, or a fresh start? Are we stuck, left to our own devices and cycles of destruction as we see playing out in the Holy Land? Or is it possible God might show up and disrupt, intervene, shake up, and take time for us?
It’s not within our own power to make a fresh start, nor to create peace. If we’re to have a future different from the past, it must come as a gift, something not of our devising. What we need is a God who refuses to be trapped in eternity, a Creator who does not ignore us nor forsake us. We need a God who not only cares about us but who is also willing to show up among us, and do something with us, here, now.
Good news! Advent, which marks the church’s New Year, invites us to meditate upon the God who has, taken time for us. Jesus’s name means “God saves,” which is a scriptural way of saying that Almighty God has turned toward us. God is not confined in heaven. God stoops toward us, intervening, showing up when we least expect and in ways that surprise. All in God’s good time. Advent is God taking time from us by making time for us. Let us make time and share the Good News of the one who alone can make peace in our time.
In God’s Peace,