Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 5: 14-16)
- The light from Bethlehem
- The light of the world is the light of God
- The light of righteousness and justice
- We are together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace
The light of the world can be seen in the Christmas card we are sharing with all churches in the world and all our partners this year. It is a painting made by a child in Bethlehem. It has a strong message, it has a strong light.
It was the same light I saw the first time I came to Bethlehem 14 years ago, exactly at the same time of year as today. Then Bethlehem was under siege, the curfew had emptied the streets from anything but the soldiers and the tanks. By exception we were allowed to come and visit in this Immanuel Church. God with us, the message was even stronger, as we were invited to a cup of tea in the cellar. The cultural centre was under construction, but had been damaged by shootings. Pastor Mitri kept his vision strong and shared it gently with some of us who came to visit even when he had so many other things to care for.
I particularly remember what you said about the lessons in music that were taking place, even under those circumstances, and the plans to develop this as a place of human dignity, nurturing the culture of Palestine, stimulating the use of the gifts and talents of each child, learning, meeting, playing, acting, singing, and painting. To strengthen the hope of each person and the hope of the people, to do something together. This light that was coming from the basement of this house filled my heart and has since then been encouraging me and many others to have faith and hope.
Therefore, it is a real privilege to send Christmas greetings this year with the sign of the light from Bethlehem – from the first Christmas and from the Church of Immanuel of today.
The words of definition from our Lord Jesus Christ to his followers are significant. They are from God and represent the light of God, shining in darkness, the light that not only illuminates us but also changes the reality of this world. These words can do so because they express the light of God, the glory of God in the midst of this world, in a place, in time, in a human being, in words, in acts, that led to suffering, crucifixion, but by the power of God also to resurrection.
It is in this light that we are defined and made into the light of the world. We cannot be the light of the world just by ourselves and in ourselves. Human ambition to be great, or great again, cannot make us the light of the world. It is only the light from the first Christmas in Bethlehem, the glory of God in human realities, that can make us the light of the world.
The light of the world are those who are blessed by God, even as they are viewed by others as the opposite, viewed by others as the losers, the poor, those who mourn. These blessed ones are those who for hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are the pure in heart and the peacemakers. Theirs is the kingdom of God. They shall be comforted. They will be called the children of God.
Through the word of God we can be much more than we are in ourselves. The light of God can be reflected through us and from us.
Even those who suffer for the sake of righteousness are blessed.
The light should not – cannot – be hidden, covered, put aside. It shall be in the lampstand, to give light to the whole house.
The light of the world is like a city, where people are meant to live together, to share their life together, to be seen as a city on the hill.
The righteousness and the justice we are longing for is needed for peace. Our search for “just peace” is a response to the call to be the light of the world, a way to reflect the light of God, the light of faith, hope and love.
A just peace is needed all over the world. In Colombia, in South Sudan, in Korea, in Ukraine, in Palestine and Israel. We see quite clearly that peace must be just to really be peace here in Bethlehem. Such peace cannot be established with use of power, violence, occupation, walls, discrimination, violations of human rights. Peace must be just, and express what is right.
In our time we have instruments that help us to define what it means to call for justice and peace. It is not just a vague idea, or a certain interpretation of a holy text or an historical interpretation. It can be, and is, defined in international law and ratified in universal declarations of human rights, as a response to the enormous failures and tragedies of the last century. We live in a time when many seem to ignore these standards and instruments for just peace between peoples and in communities, in marketplaces and in the whole of Creation. This is a time when we as the light of the world have to call for accountability to the common standards of international law that can help to establish justice and peace.
This means that there has to be an end to occupation.
This means that there has to be an end to violence in all its forms, violence by individuals, and even more so structural violence and military violence.
This means that each person’s dignity and rights must be protected and respected.
We are called to be the light of the world. One way to express this calling is to be together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace, as it is formulated in the WCC for this period of our work.
You know a lot about pilgrimage and pilgrims here in Bethlehem and in the Holy Land, and a lot about what pilgrimage is and what pilgrimage should be. We try as the WCC to call all pilgrims, those who travel or those who are pilgrims in their minds and spirit, to see that we are not pilgrims for our own sake and for our own purposes. We are pilgrims in the world, in places where the light of the world is shining on us like it does here in Bethlehem, in places and on roads where many are in need of more light.
To be pilgrims is to be on the way together, seeking what we are hoping for together, by actually moving forward together.
We are pilgrims with many different gifts, with different tasks, with different insights, different opinions, in different places, ages, even in different churches and communities of faith, but we are called to be the light of the world together. To make the light more clear, more visible, more impossible to ignore.
Together we are stronger. We are sharing the same calling. Let nothing divide us. Let nobody divide us.
Our sister and colleague, the deputy general secretary of the WCC, Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, was denied access to Israel and thereby also denied access to the churches and partners in Israel and Palestine last Monday. This is an unjust and incorrect decision. It is a decision that somebody has taken that keeps us apart from one another. It is an action that makes me realize that this might be the last time I have the possibility of visiting Bethlehem.
Dear sisters and brothers, this shall not divide us. Whatever happens to any of us, we are the followers of Christ together, not hiding our light from one another, but leting it shine in the world together.
I thank God for the light shining in Bethlehem, from Bethlehem, from all who are blessed by the birth, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore we have hope. Let us be united in hope, let nothing and nobody divide us. This is the time for us to be together. This is our kairos.
May many on all sides of the conflict here and in other places of this world give glory to God for what we are and what we do - together.