At Christmas last year you might have seen the programme ‘Alternativity’. It was about the artist Banksy’s hotel in Bethlehem called the Walled Off Hotel – an ironic reference to one of London’s most prestigious hotels, the Waldorf. It nestles against the controversial 8 metre high concrete barrier which separates the Israeli-controlled part of the town from the Palestinian territories. It all bears little resemblance to our cosy Christmas card vision of Bethlehem.
Banksy’s project embodies the struggle over this most important religious site. By playfully deconstructing the luxuries we enjoy in the West, the Walled Off forces us to think about some of the inequalities that underpin our own privilege: the hotel’s fire in the grate glows under a pile of concrete rubble, like at a bomb site, and the traditional seascape pictures in the bedrooms have discarded life jackets littering the beaches.
Banksy staged a Nativity play in the hotel car park, with the slabs of concrete as a backdrop and overlooked by watchtowers occupied by armed soldiers. The children in the play are Palestinians – some of whom have never seen the Wall, as their parents try to protect them from its existence. You might have thought it would be easy to get hold of a donkey in Bethlehem, but it seems not – they have been abused or are in fact mules but they get one eventually. The whole idea seemed to me to embody something so true about God’s coming among us at Christmas – that we can only work with what we have got – that God enters in to our broken humanity and works with and through our lives.
The Christmas story is all about light shining in darkness, about the promise we are given that God is to be found right where we might least expect – in a stable as vulnerable new born, in our troubled and divided world, in the mess and confusion of our ordinary lives. God, (unlike a donkey in Bethlehem) is easy to find because God is right with us, is part of who we are – not just our Sunday-best selves. God is in the whole of us: in all that we can love and accept and in all that shames and angers us. God comes to us, into any space we can clear, however broken and makeshift. God comes so that we can know our lives too are sacred and filled with light.
Rev'd Claire McClelland. St Peter's