After 40 days of celebrating Christmas, the massive Christmas tree in Manger Square was taken down in the middle of January. The festival lingers longer here than in any other place, but the tree’s removal marked the fact that Christmas was now officially over in this little town.
Bypassers looked on at the changing scene, no doubt reflecting on the festive Christmas they had had and contemplating the year ahead.
In all this, the issue of freedom – an essential human need – is central. Its lack creates a crisis for almost everyone. Palestinian Christians, for whom I can speak, dream of living and moving freely – without boundaries, without checkpoints, without the need to obtain permissions to move from one place to another. To live, to love, to laugh, to smile, to hope without the existence of walls or barriers: this dream has become almost surreal.
Quite recently, over the Christmas period, Palestinian Christians were given permission to travel freely. Those who were not afraid (due to the increased tensions) to venture into Jerusalem and other areas of Israel enjoyed this taste of freedom. They made the best of it: a special cup of coffee, mall-shopping, some sightseeing; perhaps a day by the sea.
Often in this land, it feels as if freedom is granted by ink on paper. But this is not reality. True freedom isn’t authorised by governments or powers, but is God -given! The freedom that Jesus gives us through His birth, life, death and resurrection surpasses any other sort of freedom. It is a freedom that sets us free from sin, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy; where everything negative and every work of the flesh flees in the presence of the Lord of freedom Himself.
I cannot help but feel indebted for God’s faithfulness in my life. Yes, I do live in a restricted town, yet I experience God’s bountiful provision on a daily basis. I have a loving family who support me beyond measure, a rewarding job where I get to teach and learn from Christ’s words every day, encouraging friends, and a godly husband. With these I can truly experience the freedom that comes from above; not only during a one-day outing when I am given permission to tread on a land that really belongs to no one but God, but in every event, we can be assured that nothing can separate us from His love. When Jesus is our satisfaction, there is nothing that we shall lack.
The words to this powerful hymn come to me afresh:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into His wonderful face, and the things of the world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
Lord, this world is between your hands. You reign over it all: help us to understand the real meaning of freedom, and guide us this year through your Spirit “to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” wherever in the world we might be. Amen.