An Advent Meditation 2023

Friends of the Holy Land


Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright.

As I write this there’s a pause in the fighting that has engulfed the lives of people in Israel, Gaza, Palestine and in fact the whole world, since the atrocities that happened on 7th October.  One person in Gaza interviewed on the news recently said that they ‘woke to the sound of .. nothing’.  It was a powerful reminder that for weeks the noise of war, of drone attacks and missile strikes, of buildings collapsing, sirens blaring and people screaming, had been the soundtrack of the lives of so many of our friends.  For, if we are Friends of the Holy Land, then we are friends, not so much of the land but of the people, the ‘living stones’ of the land we call holy.

People had gone to their lodgings, those staying in the inns had fallen asleep, their animals were resting.  The sun had long set and the stars were shining bright in a clear, cold sky.  And suddenly the silence is broken, but not by the sound of aggression, not by a sound that would evoke fear, but the sound that stirs wonder in our heart.  Into the dark, silent night the first cry of a baby is heard and the gentle coo of a mother who holds her child close to her breast and all is quiet again.

How silently, how silently,

the wondrous gift is giv'n!

God comes amongst us in silence, as we say in church, ‘God is our peace’, our wholeness, our shalom, our salaam, our calm silence who speaks the gentlest word into the human condition as ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ (John 1.14) In the gentleness of a mother, in the quiet strength of a father, in the serenity of the divine, the miracle of ‘God among us’ happens.

We hear so much of the words of the prophet Isaiah in the days of Advent leading up to Christmas, and much of what he says is so familiar to us.  But in the pages of his prophecy, he asks this

Woe to anyone who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’

   or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labour?’

(Isaiah 45.10)

The only begotten, the one made flesh of the Blessed Virgin, is the one who will bring both peace and be the peace that the world needs.  Into the horrors and turmoil, the injustices and the instability of his own day, Jesus was born and in a sense each year, as we remember that birth, Jesus is born again into our own turmoil and injustice and instability.  In the Holy Land a holy child is born who is a sign, and more than a sign, of the peace of God that passes understanding.

In the past weeks, since the horror of that Saturday morning when news began to emerge from southern Israel, I have been reluctant, almost afraid to speak.  Say one thing and someone is upset, say another and another person is furious.  Words have been defined as a sign of hatred, of phobia against this group of people or that, of taking sides, of fuelling the flames, of adding to the problem.  So, I have felt that I must keep silent and simply pray.

Whenever words fail us, and they often do, when silence seems the only real option, we mustn’t feel as though it’s the weakest, the least brave, the coward’s response.  Often silence is the wise response, for silence often allows God to enter with the divine shalom, the divine salaam and for another Word to be heard. 

When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course, down from heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all powerful Word.

(Wisdom 18:14-15)

God’s powerful Word enters in peaceful silence.  I do not know what the situation in Israel and Gaza will be like when you finally read this.  What I do know is that the world needs the Christ Child more than ever, needs to step aside into the silence of the stable and encounter God in the midst.

Woman, ‘With what are you in labour?’ God’s peace, your peace, our peace for eternity.