Saturday, 19 December 2015

Bethlehem in a War Zone

Bloomsbury Carol Celebration
18 December 2015

You can watch me give part of this talk here
Sadly, the video only started recording part of the way through.

Bethlehem, famous throughout the world as Royal David's City,
            the little still town of silent stars and bleak midwinters,
or at least that's the way a thousand nativity scenes would have us picture it.

However, the reality of this border town,
            trapped in a conflict about territory
            that stretches back to long before the time of Jesus,
is very different from the Victorian fantasy
            of a  peaceful stable surrounded by lowing oxen and reverent shepherds.

One of our church members, Jean,
            who gave our Bible reading for us just now,
                        has been there recently,
            and has seen the present day reality of Bethlehem in a war zone.

The pictures showing behind me were taken by her over the last few weeks
            and speak more than words could
                        about the situation facing those
                        who live in the militarised zone around the wall.

But there is still hope in the war zone.

The Christmas tree is up in manger square,
            and both locals and visitors continue to bear witness
                        to the hope for peace and reconciliation
                        that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.

Just as Jesus brought the hope of God to Bethlehem of old,
            so there are followers of Jesus today
                        who still seek to being the hope of God
                        to a world that is often dark and bleak and cold.

And so people like Jean,
                        together with Christians from many different traditions,
            go to Bethlehem, and other occupied territories,
                        to offer an international human rights presence
                        to help people step away from violence and war,
                        and move towards peace and reconciliation and justice.

And of course it's not just in Bethlehem,
            and it's not only overseas.

Our own great city has its fair share of dark corners,
            and London too needs the 'everlasting light'
                        to shine a beacon of hope to those lost or trapped
                        in the streets and slums of our own part of the world.

And this, in a nutshell, is what this church is about.

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church is a place
            where the homeless and vulnerable find shelter,
            we are a community where the excluded find welcome,
                        and where people can experience transformation in the name of Jesus.

We believe that following the path and example of Jesus
            means that we cannot ignore the needs of our world,
                        whether they are on our doorstep,
                        or on the other side of the world.

For nearly 170 years, this building has stood as a beacon of hope,
            and those who come here, whether  as worshippers on a Sunday
                        or as volunteers with us in other ways,
            find it to be a place of transformation and hope.

I'd like to invite everyone here tonight to get to know us a bit better
            - details of how to find us online are on your order of service.

I've often said that no-one comes to Bloomsbury by accident,
            so if you're here tonight,
            maybe it could be the start of something new.

And my prayer is that this Christmas
            we all will know the peace of Christ,
            both in our own lives, and in our world.

As a symbolic act of prayer, I'm going to light this candle,
                        which Jean brought back for us
                        from The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem,
            and place it on our Peace flag.

As it burns through the rest of the service,
            I'd like to invite us all to take a moment to pray for peace.

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