Live always at the edge of poetic possibilty, even in the face of severe prose. - Walter Bruggemann

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Eve Service at the Christmas Lutheran Church In Bethlehem

Here is a link to view excerpts from the Christmas Eve Service in Bethlehem. As you can see it was a very moving and beautiful service. The excerpt is from the Advent Calender from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Jordan and Holy Land.

My Christmas 2007

Here is a photo diary of the events of Christmas as I spent it. You have to look hard for the lights and sights that accompany Christmas. But, it's there, similar yet different.

People waiting at the door of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. It was the first of two Christmas Fairs that were held during Advent. The Church body is made up of three congregations, German, Arabic and English speaking. This fair was hosted by the German speaking folks.

They were making Christmas waffles as well as other goodies. There were many little items to buy at the fair made from different Christian groups in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

These two blurry photos are from the St. Lucia Festival at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem. After the procession and singing by this choir we were treated to gingerbread star cookies and mulled wine. Following the festivities was a service in their chapel with wonderful singing and music, a great homily by the Swedish pastor at the Institute, and prayers offered by the seminary students who were from all over the world. This was held on December 13.

One of the only "true" as only the Americans can do it Christmas displays. This was put out by one of the little coffee and candy shops up Latin Patriarchate Street just inside of Jaffe Gate of the Old City in Jerusalem.

I went to an Advent Fair at the Dormition Abbey two weeks before Christmas. This pretty little display was in the room where the Benedictine Monks were selling candles, incense and cd's that they make. It's a German speaking Abbey so the goodies to eat were Dormition Cake, a plum, walnut and chocolate absolutely delicacy and hot mulled apple cider.

Inside of the Dormition Abbey. Their Advent wreath hung from the ceiling of the nave of the church. The candles were red for Advent and when I went to the Midnight Mass the greenery had been taken down and red candles were changed to white.

After services in Bethlehem we returned early. I rested and then went to the Midnight Mass at the Dormition Abbey. It was very beautiful and moving. The monks were vested in white and the Abbot processed in with his staff and mitre. The New Testament, a beautiful, large, jewelled book was held high in the processional as the rest of the monks followed. It was a long service ending at 2:00 am. I don't have pics from the service because they asked especially for us not to take photos. Which, was just fine!!

Thanks to Connie who sent me this Christmas tree. I added some angels that I had painted in anticipation of having a tree. The Israeli government gives out trees at Jaffe Gate....for free! I did not get one however because I didn't want to get into a cab with it nor did I want to drag it on a half an hour walk to my apartment. The other ornaments that are laying around this tree are olive wood ornaments that I bought in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
One of the side altars at the Dormition Abbey the Saturday before Christmas.
Christmas Eve. We went to Bethlehem early on Christmas Eve, this is a street scene before it got dark.
Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. Outside on the was packed with people this year. Street vendors where hawking the ususal things tea, nuts, fruit, etc. On this night there also was corn on the cob and cotton candy, party hats, and flashing stars. It felt like a carnivale.

However, there was a beautiful service inside of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. The congregation from Jerusalem - Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (that's who I was with) participated as well as the German speaking congregation from the Redeemer Church. It was a very beautiful service. The different parts of the service were in German, English, and Arabic. The music, universal!! The bell choir and choir played wonderfully. The sermon was in Arabic - interesting!!! However we were given a summary in English, thank goodness. We said the Lord's Prayer in our own languages at once and at the end of the service we lit our candles that we had been given and sang Silent Night in our own language. Very moving. The above picture is of the dome inside of the church.

Lovely stained glass windows which are original to the church built between 1886-93. There are 14 in total, here is just one of them. It is from Luke where the angels appear to the shepherds.
Christmas tree inside of the church. You'll notice that all of the Christmas trees are light in color - I don't know what kind of evergreen but all of the trees are this color. And, of course, an olive wood nativity scene below the tree.
Altar of the Christmas Lutheran Church.

After the service we walked down to Manger Square to see the festivities.

On the way home about 7:30 pm. We passed through the checkpoints without much ado, this is the security fence as we were leaving Bethlehem. Below is a picture of candy. Our bus was pulled aside and we were asked to disembark, which we did. We had to go into a tent and a woman from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism gave out these candy cones and wished us a Merry Christmas. Of course, many photographers were there. A little weird because the other bus with our group was not chosen to be stopped and given candy.

A Christmas party-er! Hey, the hat and the star will be good for quite a few children's sermons in the future.
This little boy was so cute. He did his own hair that night. He was at the Bethlehem Church service and now was waiting for Santa.
In Jerusalem. This is the chapel inside of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer where our little English speaking congregation worships.

A Christmas brunch at the Pastor's home.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Every Day, and then the Rest

Aren’t you afraid? That was just one of the great, profound, silly, or hilarious topics of conversation at a warm and wonderful Shabbos dinner last night. Fear! Around the table was a rabbi, a Jewish educator, a rabbinical student, a yeshiva student, a jewelry maker, a young woman who just made alyah, a recent widow from the United States, a Philippino Christian and me. At points during the dinner we were with tears of laughter in our eyes.

We eventually wound our way to the topic of fear and quickly realized that we had a question in common. Aren’t you afraid? Each one of us has been asked that question of our lives here. We make our homes in Israel….aren’t you afraid? We ride public transportation….aren’t you afraid? We have Palestinian friends….aren’t you afraid? We venture into a crowded souk….aren’t you afraid? We go to Bethlehem….aren’t you afraid? And, of course, we laughed together at what seems like a ridiculous question. But then we became silent. The rabbi said that the fear people ask us about is the fear within themselves. How easy it is to project one’s own fear on someone else.

More than likely there was some such fear within each one of us when we came here. How could there not be when you come to a place that is so foreign and different from our previous understanding of life and living. But when the unchartered waters of our life experiences become familiar, fear does dissipate. Philip Berrigan, an internationally known peace activist and former priest writes, “Fear is a reminder that we are creatures – fragile, vulnerable, totally dependent on God. But fear shouldn’t dominate or control or define us. Rather, it should submit to faith and love.”

Fear does, finally, in the end, have to submit to faith in God. If not then our lives will be lived in darkness and despair, in anxiety and trepidation. Faith in God enables us to get out of our own way, to trust, to be open, and to proceed into the future that is only filled with promise and hope. God reassured Isaac that he would not be alone and would be blessed with offspring for Abraham’s sake. Moses restores confidence in the Israelites that God is with them, don’t be afraid. An angel appeared to Mary saying, “Fear not young woman, God has found favor with you.” The heavenly hosts appeared to the fearful shepherds saying “don’t be afraid” and they hurried off to the place to where Jesus was born.

Fear and faith are twined together. Fear is a cry of human abandonment. Faith, in the miraculous and reassuring power of God’s strength and love is the antidote to our all too only human fear.

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.... Bethlehem. Another day of travel to Bethlehem yielded some great photo opportunities. It was not very crowded because it was an Islamic holiday, Eid Al-Adha. Eid al-Adha commemorates the day the Ibraham (Abraham) was willing to sacrifice his son to Allah. Most of the shops and the souk was closed but the few places that were open where owned by Arab Christians. The Christian population is very small, about 12% according to stats from 2002. On Christmas Eve Bethlehem will be filled with Christian pilgrims to celebrate Jesus' birth. I'll be there with friends from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and worshipping at the Lutheran Christmas Church. So for now, enjoy Christmas in the Middle East!

Street scene. Probably wouldn't win the Christmas decoration contest.

Neither would this one.

Olive wood carving workshop at the Salesian Artistic Center.

Also at the Salesian Centre is a mother of pearl workshop. In practically every shop are olive wood and mother of pearl objects to buy from elaborate nativity sets to ornaments, keychains and necklaces.

At the centre students are brought in to learn the trade so that they can be self sustaining. After a two year trade program they go to work in the olive wood or mother of pearl factories.

Franciscan Monks walking up one of the streets to the Milk Grotto Church. The church is where they say Mary spilled a drop of her breast milk. Since thousands of women have come and offered prayers for fertility.

On top of the Milk Grotto is a modern chapel with this amazing stained glass window. The trees are actually on the outside of the windows.

As I was leaving a priest wanted to show me a room where he had hundreds of letters and pictures from women all around the world. Each one of them had infertility problems and, after visiting the grotto have conceived and had children.

Another wood workshop on Milk Grotto Street.

But, before I went into the olive wood store the owner invited me up on the rooftop for some amazing views of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside.

You can see that the sky was getting a little funky.

And I turned around and saw this incredible cloud formation with sun behind it. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon.

These are completely untouched!!!
Why yes, I AM obsessed with candlelight.

Why do you ask??

An angel from an Armenian altar from inside of the Church of the Nativity.
A very sacred place, the grotto of the Church of the Nativity. This is where Jesus was born.
And, of course, Yassir Arafat, posthumously and Fateh wishes you a Merry Christmas. This banner is displayed on Manger Square.

On the way home once again. Good Night Bethlehem, rest peacefully.