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Faceless and Nameless People

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Simulcast Service

Christmas Lutheran Evangelical Church and the National Cathedral in Washington DC

Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac Remarks15/12/2018

The grace of our Lord, the child of Bethlehem, be with you! I bring you greetings from Bethlehem – the Bethlehem! I am indeed privileged to be with you this morning, as we reach yet another milestone in this partnership between our two communities.

A while ago, I was visiting an olivewood handcrafts shop in Bethlehem, and the artist showed me a statue of the holy family as refugees. But it was like no other handcrafts. The characters were faceless. There were heads; but no faces. I thought then; how symbolic! I am not sure what the artist meant; but I saw a lot of meaning in this particular “faceless” holy family refugee portrait. For how many “faceless” and “nameless” people are there in our world today, people who are seeking refuge, safety, dignity and recognition? People who are only referred to as numbers and statistics; part of headlines; victims of oppression; people who have become tools serving the interest of the mighty and rich. “Faceless” and “nameless” – people.

I think of the many refugees around our world today, and the many people displaced and besieged because of violence. I think of victims of the conflicts in Syria and Yemen today; I think of the faceless and nameless of Gaza.

As Palestinians; being faceless and nameless pretty much defines how most people around the world look at us. We are only viewed in reference to the “other” powerful side. Over history, Empires occupied us; colonial powers promised and handed our land and homes to another; we were displaced; and displaced again; the powerful make declarations about our identity and rooted-heritages; they make discriminatory laws; for they saw an empty Palestine; a Jerusalem without Palestinians; even a Bethlehem without Christians. And for most Christians, our land is merely stones of antiquities. Old historic churches; but no people – unless you are on their side, of course. We are faceless and nameless.

In this Christmas season, we are reminded that Jesus is Immanuel; God with us; God as one of us. For he, too, became another victim of oppression. In his childhood, he had to survive a massacre. He then became just one more refugee among many other “faceless” and “nameless” refugees in our world. He was born into a simple normal family; in our little town; in a cave out of all places – as if to say: I recognize you! I know what you feel. I see your face; I know your name; and I know your story; and I share your experience. As a Palestinian, and for millions of oppressed and neglected people around the world, this is good news.

So today I bring this statue with me as a gift to the National Cathedral. It is not only a symbol of our partnership and mutual recognition of one another, but also a reminder to both of us that we exist as a church today for the sake of the “faceless” and “nameless”; to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and defend, comfort, protect and give value and worth to the vulnerable and neglected. If we do not move towards them, then who will? And if we do not recognize them, then who will?

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