‘Christ in the Rubble’ service from Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem draws a large online crowd

The Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac says God can be found amidst the rubble in Gaza

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A “Christ in the Rubble” service was held Saturday at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. (Photo by Doug Dicks)

LOUISVILLE — Several hundred people online joined a few dozen worshiping in person Saturday at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, for “Christ in the Rubble,” a service of lament for the people of Gaza. Several partners of Christmas Lutheran Church, including the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network, carried the 90-minute service, which can be seen here, here or here.

Christmas Lutheran Church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, said in his sermon that if Jesus were born today, he would be born “under the rubble.”

“In our pain, anguish and lament, we have searched for God and found him under the rubble in Gaza,” Isaac said. “Jesus became the victim of the very same violence of the Empire. He was tortured. Crucified. He bled out as others watched. He was killed and cried out in pain: ‘My God, where are you?’ In Gaza today, God is under the rubble.”

“And in this Christmas season, as we search for Jesus, he is to be found not on the side of Rome, but our side of the wall — in a cave, with a simple family. Vulnerable. Barely and miraculously surviving a massacre. Among a refugee family. This is where Jesus is found.”

Hundreds watched online as Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem held a service of lament. (Photo by Doug Dicks)

“When we glorify pride and richness, Jesus is under the rubble,” Isaac said. “When we rely on power, might and weapons, Jesus is under the rubble. When we justify, rationalize and theologize the bombing of children, Jesus is under the rubble.

“This is his manger. He is at home with the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed and displaced. This is his manger.”

It’s a manger, Isaac said, that is “about resilience.”

“The resilience of Jesus is in his meekness, weakness and vulnerability,” Isaac said. “The majesty of the incarnation lies in its solidarity with the marginalized.”

It’s resilient “because this very same child rose up from the midst of pain, destruction, darkness and death to challenge empires, to speak truth to power and deliver an everlasting victory over death and darkness,” Isaac said.

The Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac

Isaac said he was in the United States just after Thanksgiving “and I was amazed by the amount of Christmas decorations and lights” and “all the commercial goods.” He couldn’t help but think: “They sing about the Prince of Peace in their land while playing the drum of war in our land.”

“This is our message to the world today,” Isaac said. “It is a gospel message, a true and authentic Christmas message, about the God who did not stay silent but sent his Word, and his Word is Jesus, born among the occupied and marginalized. He is in solidarity with us in our pain and brokenness.”

Portions of the service were conducted in Arabic, including some of the liturgy as well as beautiful versions of hymns including “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Three scriptures were read: Lamentations 3:21-26, 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 and Matthew 2:13-18, Matthew’s account of the holy family fleeing to Egypt, which was read in Arabic.

One of those worshiping in person at Christmas Lutheran Church was the Rev. Frank Chikane, a member of the African National Congress in South Africa and moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs for the World Council of Churches. Bringing greetings at Isaac’s invitation, Chikane said it was “a privilege to be here with you to share in this service” as part of a delegation that included representatives from South America, the United States, Canada and Latin America.

“We are here at this critical moment in your history to be in solidarity with you,” Chikane said. “We are here … to listen, to pray and to share in your pain” because “if one part of the body of Christ suffers, the rest suffers.”

“It was a risky thing to say, ‘We are going where the war is,’” Chikane said. “If our brothers and sisters are affected, we must be with them, and that’s why we are here. May God bless you. Amen.”

Worshipers were dismissed with a benediction that included these words: “Give us the strength to be mediators of peace and reconciliation.”

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