An Unprecedented Homily

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Departing from tradition, His Beatitude, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, delivered the following homily during Midnight Mass in Bethlehem this past Christmas. Under traditions of protocol since Ottoman times, homilies are not delivered during this Mass.

Christmas brings us together on this holy night to reflect on the mystery of God’s love for mankind; for today “the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared.” (Titus 3:4) And, as it is written in the letter to the Hebrews, “In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken through his Son, whom he has made heir of all things and through whom he first created the universe. This Son is the reflection of God’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1: 1-3)

We have come together tonight to meditate, to contemplate the glory, the kindness and the love of God which has been revealed to us. It is especially during this time of torment and sinfulness in which we are living that we need this contemplation, which is the regeneration of the Spirit within us.

And in this contemplation on God’s kindness and love we pray for peace and justice in our Holy Land which has been bathed in the blood and the torment of its children for many years, but particularly in these last two years.

First, we address our children in Bethlehem – all the Palestinian people. We say to them: We are living your ordeal and we understand your torment. We understand why you ask us how it is that we can celebrate Christmas, its joy, its message of salvation, in the midst of this humiliating ordeal, of ransacked homes, of children who are killed and imprisoned?

To you we say: In spite of this ordeal, your dark night, and in fact because of it, we will continue to announce to you the joy of the Savior who has been born for the salvation of all.

We invite you to contemplate the Savior to reflect on God and his eternal Word. We invite you to gaze upon the spirit, which is the revelation of the kindness and love of God, in order to renew your faith in God and in mankind. In spite of all misfortune which surrounds you, there are men of goodwill, there is goodness in humanity and in all people. This goodness will finally overcome evil.

We also say to you who are suffering this ordeal and this dark night, to prepare yourselves for love and for forgiveness.

The love in your hearts will save you and render you just – the love for God and for those who cause you torment. For it is when each one discovers the face of God in his adversary that justice and peace will be established.

And in a similar manner, we say to the Jewish people: Prepare your hearts for love and for forgiveness. Love will save you and will give you the security you desire.

And to the authorities here present we say: Help and give these two peoples the opportunity to rediscover themselves. Help them to reconcile themselves to each other and to love one another.

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