The upcoming English church leaders‚Äô visit to Bethlehem reminds us that the world is mired in violence and insecurity, and that it is in just such a world that God came to accompany us in Jesus, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said in a talk for BBC Radio 2‚Äôs Pause for Thought today.
Dr Williams urged his listeners to remember the suffering and economic hardship of the Holy Land as they sing popular Advent and Christmas songs about peace and harmony in the town associated with Christ‚Äôs birth.
He mentioned terrorism and conflict affecting Christians, Muslims and Jews in the region, but chose not specifically to name the Israeli security wall which the inhabitants of Bethlehem say is strangling the life out of their city.
The full text of the talk is as follows
Just to complicate Christmas preparations a bit more this year, I‚Äôll be off to Bethlehem on Wednesday with some of my colleagues. We‚Äôre planning to be there for a few days just before Christmas, and ‚Äì with luck ‚Äì we‚Äôll be back in time for Christmas Eve.
Like most people, I guess, when I hear the name ‚ÄòBethlehem‚Äô I think warm and comforting thoughts. It‚Äôs somehow a warm and comforting word. And most people of my generation anyway think of ‚ÄòO little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie‚Äô‚Ä¶
And what will we see when we get there this week? We‚Äôll see what every visitor sees, what many who‚Äôve never been there would love to see ‚Äì a place made holy, made warm, you could say, by centuries of prayer and thanksgiving. And I know that we‚Äôll have kindness and welcome from the local people and a chance to worship in the great ancient church of the Nativity.
Some of it‚Äôs going to be a lot harder, though. We‚Äôre visiting Christians who suffer terrible economic hardship and daily anxiety about their homes and their security. We‚Äôll be alongside people, Christians, Jews and Muslims, whose lives have been wrecked in different ways by terrorism and by the sense that they‚Äôre hated and feared by each other. We‚Äôll be with people who are really desperate to find some sort of hope, some way out of the cycle of violence and insecurity.
And seeing all that simply reminds you that this was also the kind of world into which Jesus was born ‚Äì because the twisting and turning of human hearts isn‚Äôt all that different today from what it was 2,000 years ago. God‚Äôs love came among us at Christians just because we need help from beyond ourselves if we‚Äôre going to find hope.
So when you hear ‚ÄòO little town of Bethlehem‚Äô sung in the next few days ‚Äì and you will, because it‚Äôs one of the all-time favourites ‚Äì think of us and all the pilgrims who want to travel to Bethlehem; think of the people who‚Äôll be there to greet us. Pray for everyone in Bethlehem and all of the Holy Land who‚Äôs longing for hope and new beginnings. And you might even slip in a prayer that we all get home in time for the Christmas Eve carol services.