Advent reflections from a Diaspora Palestinian

by Rosana Thompson, Diaspora Palestinian, Steward of Facts- and Bright Stars of Bethlehem Area Representative

“Here you talk about it as something you ‘believe in’, but where I come from it is ‘just a fact.'” –Greta Thunberg, Swedish climate activist.

Her words resonated with me as I remembered a 4 year old boy from our homeschooling community who asked me about my mother being from the place where Jesus was born. His eyes crinkled with confusion as he inquired, “Did your mom live in a real place, on the real earth? I didn’t know that Jesus was from a real place!” When did the facts of our world become fairytales, and the historic Jesus become a fiction that we “believe” in or not?

The legacy of a faith built on tangible, living evidence is the one passed on to me as an American-born Christian with a mother who emigrated from Palestine. The facts reported to us began with her memories in the stone courtyard of the Nativity church, where she and her brother used to play marbles with pebbles as children. Where she rang the church bell by hanging from its cord in the steeple. Facts spoke to us of miraculous healings like a mute boy being healed on the spot after visiting a sacred place, and his shouts being heard by a bus full of pilgrims proclaiming, “Mama, I see a dove! I see a dove!”

Facts included the Holy Fire that appeared in Jesus’ tomb every year on Al Sabt il Noor, The Saturday of the Light, when the Orthodox church brings a miraculous flame out of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Facts lived in the lower level of the Nativity Church where, to this day, there is a grave full of children’s bones, the presumed crypt of the innocent infants who were executed by King Herod when the toddler Jesus became a refugee in Egypt with his mother, Mary, and his father, Joseph. These facts also grieved violence, like the icon of Mary and Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that shed tears a short time before the 6 day war broke out in 1967. Today it still hangs in a small chapel there with a streak in the paint that runs from her eye. These facts where why after watching “The Passion of the Christ” movie a church group, my mom was the only dry eye in the house. Matter of fact, she challenged, “I don’t understand why everyone is so shocked. This is the truth. This is how it was.”

Growing up in an American home with a Palestinian parent, this confrontation between what people “believed in” and the “facts” defined my worldview. In 2002, over the month of Easter, the Church of the Nativity fell under siege by the Israeli Defense Forces. We cried and prayed as we spoke over the phone with our family who reported tanks on the street in front of their home and body bags being carried away, while the nightly television news spun an entirely different tale. In Bible studies, the Israel of the Old Testament was spoken of as the state Israel of today. Yet, to me, the Israel of today was one that appeared in post World War II military uniforms with firearms, intimidated families in their homes, and threatened children as they walked to school.

Facts told me that the Old Testament’s Israel shared our Palestinian DNA, as the Holy Land Christians descend from the many people groups of the first century church, including Hebrews, Romans, Arabs and others who received the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost. The stewards of the faith of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the living Son of God are to this day, the Palestinian Christians. To this day, that responsibility is mine. We are the diaspora Palestinian Christians. Regardless of where we live, we carry this legacy of truth-telling, remembrance, and a faith established on historic facts that defined the lives of our ancestors. Join us in being stewards of the facts. Jesus came and dwelt among us. In a real placeMay the confidence of that which is real bring joy and hope to you this Advent week and during Christmas.