Advent Day 10: A reflection on the Tent of Nations by Rev Dr John McCulloch

As the days shorten, and the silvery green olive trees are silhouetted against the incarnadine sky, Christmas lights are going up all around old Bethlehem. But any sense of Advent expectation and hope are overshadowed by the ongoing Israeli Occupation. Not only is Bethlehem becoming an open air prison behind the nine-metre high separation wall, but it is being encircled by Israeli settlement expansion, illegal under international law.

A sign at the Tent of Nations farm
A sign at the Tent of Nations farm.

Nowhere is the situation more acute than at the Tent of Nations farm just outside Bethlehem. Surrounded by settlement expansion, 300 of their olive trees have been placed under a demolition order. Across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, ancient olive trees are being uprooted and destroyed to expand the Israeli settlements.

For some, advent conjures up hope that light and love will flood our hearts and our world again; but for our friends at the Tent of Nations, it is not always easy to hold on to hope, when they have had to expend so much time and resources to retain their land and protect their saplings and olive trees.

The Tent of Nations is a refuge and oasis, encircled by the militarised networks of occupation, that force themselves on the fragile beauty of the land and its people, pushing shepherds and their flocks off the fertile hilltops, to build more settlements and checkpoints.

Written on the coarse surface of a rock as you enter the Tent of Nations are the words 'we refuse to be enemies'; a message that calls us to see through the eyes of compassion, so that fears can be overcome through love; inspiring us to believe that reconciliation and resurrection can take root in this land; amidst the olive trees, flowers and fruit;

The Church of Scotland will continue to stand with the Tent of Nations and its Christian witness of non-violence. The Nassar family are one of the last remaining Christian families in one of the most threatened parts of Area C. The eco-chapel is a place where the sacrament of communion will be celebrated amidst the threatened olive grove. It is a space that embodies the hope and love of Christ's evangel, where justice and compassion reach out beyond the walls and fences of division.

As we stand together, and worship alongside our friends at The Tent of Nations, let us always remember that our advent God does not come wielding power and privilege, but comes in humility, and in weakness to shame the strong. Our God is born as a refugee baby, with a death threat hanging over him from the day he was born, and yet despite this, he enters our world, and keeps coming again and again with the promise of renewal. Advent is a reminder that the hope of God's presence breaks in to the darkness of our world.

May we remember this advent, that the seeds of hope for our world, come in the vulnerability of a child, who is born into our world to transform it through love.

May we never lose hope, that love will have the final word. Let us prepare the way for the coming of our Lord and Saviour, into our hearts and our world, that we may be changed by his coming amongst us.

May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

  • Dr John McCulloch is the minister of St Andrew's Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem

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