A Star in the Night

by | Dec 18, 2023

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

In this last week before Christmas, the conflict in Jesus’ homeland throws shade over the holiday celebrations. As we see the grief in Israel, the suffering in Gaza, and the violent reactions in our own universities and neighborhoods, it’s hard to think of Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year. How do we find hope in this complicated time?

In the prophecies of Isaiah and Mary, the promised salvation of the people of God comes through change. What was dark is light, the yoke of the oppressor is broken, the powerful are thrown from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up. The prophecies are hoped for only by those who are suffering in the current situation. But for many of us, change is scary, because life is pretty good for us. It is the young Mary who sings with joy that change is going to come, not Herod.

There’s another problem with change—it comes in ways we don’t expect. Take the response to the Israel-Hamas war. I am especially mystified by the protests on our college campuses. How can students speak with so much anger against the Jewish state? And how are their protests so diametrically opposed to Joseph Biden’s staunch support?

One thought relates to the changes in generational perspective. For Boomers and before, Israel is seen through the lens of the Holocaust, as a refuge for people who have suffered more than just about anyone in modern Western history. Millenials were born in the 1980s and early 1990s—when Israel was well- established as an economic and military power, but with a vision that Israelis can bring democracy and human rights to their land. Generation Z—the folks in college today—were born between 1997 and 2012. They have only known Israel dominated by Benjamin Netanyahu and the aggressive expansions of the settlers; Netanyahu first became Prime Minister of Israel in 1996.

My frustration is with the stubborn tendency to respond to injustice with continuing cycles of vengeance. Critics see the Hamas atrocity as a logical response to the creeping domination of Israel, and Israel seeks to justify the massive deaths in Gaza as warranted by the suffering of October 7th. But the problem is, for every Hamas fighter killed today, more are being born as Palestinian children witness the starvation, death, and displacement of themselves and their families.

In the birth of Jesus Christ, God tells us there is another way. Oppressed by Herod and the Roman Empire, the Israelites of two millennia ago prayed for a leader to save them—and if it meant triumph on the part of Judea and revenge against their enemies, so much the better. But we Christians believe that God’s answer to those prayers was quite the surprise. To the people walking in darkness, a star did shine

—but it didn’t shine over the palace of a great king or the camp of a mighty general. The star pointed to a humble stable: a temporary shelter for a displaced young family giving birth to a helpless baby, a baby destined to be made a refugee in a foreign land, a healer and teacher of peace, and a man of God who refused to seek revenge even when beaten, humiliated, and executed by his own people and the government of the day. And we call him Savior, and we seek to follow his example.

I still don’t know the answer to the heartbreak in Israel and Palestine. But this Christmas, I hope that we can be Christmas People, as we look for ways to disrupt the cycle of violence in our world. And may we know the peace of Christ, in the quiet of that holy night, when God broke into human history and showed us the way of shalom. I pray for peace and healing, even for those mired in violence. May we help to make Christ’s path straight, for all to come and see. Merry Christmas, and see you in January.


With Christ’s love,