Bishop Philip Huggins – advent reflections

Bishop Phillip Huggins


The birth of our beautiful Saviour Jesus took place, as we know, after his dear parents had made quite a journey.

It is a long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Most contemporary pilgrims to the Holy Land get quite a surprise to see how far it is.

Parents naturally ask themselves various practical questions.

  • When Joseph and Mary set out, did they know where they would stay along the way?
  • Did they take their own food?
  • Were they travelling alone or were there others in Nazareth who, because of the Census (Luke 2:1-7), had to make the same trip?

Amidst the busyness of daily life, we can imagine their frustration as they took in the news from Nazareth that the supreme ruler of their day wanted them all counted, for some obscure reason. Probably for reasons to do with control rather than to enhance their well-being.

One can imagine the local discourse as people pondered this dictate from those temporarily in charge.

One imagines some satire and ironic humour, which is the self-respecting response of the poor and powerless to the random dictates of rulers, who seem indifferent  to  the impact of their demands on the daily life of ordinary people.

  • Did Joseph have to explain his absence from work to a boss or clients?
  • Were there dependent family members or domestic animals that needed other carers in their absence?
  • Did they even know how long they would be away?
  • And then, of course, what about the anxiety of travelling when Mary was so close to the full term of her pregnancy?

There must have been the same concerns amongst their loved ones, as still today for many, that the child and / or mother might be lost along the way.

Thanks be to God they arrived safely and Jesus was born in that manger, amidst wise-ones and shepherds, in all the smells of that stable, now Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

….So , what  do these simple imaginings  say to us at Christmas in 2013? Particularly as we pray for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

We must continue to plead with Governments and rulers to be attentive to the impact of their decisions on ordinary people, for whom daily life is generally already very demanding.

The wonderful Gandhi encouraged rulers to always look at each decision with this principle in mind: how will this decision benefit the most vulnerable of my people?

If the honest answer is that the decision will make their lives more difficult, DON’T DO IT!

As we gaze to Bethlehem today we note that, like the first Christmas, it is under occupation – but instead of the Romans, it’s Israel that occupies the West Bank town of Bethlehem, which has for many generations been a Palestinian town.

So how will the decisions of the occupying forces effect the most vulnerable?

Palestinians often say that one of the worst parts of the occupation is the daily effect of the various military road-blocks , check- points ,permit-systems, etc.  The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem today should only be a couple of hours by car, but because of all these barriers, the trip can often take a whole day, if people are able to pass at all.  The effects of this are numerous.

It is said that 226,000 children and over 9,300 teachers are unable to regularly reach their classrooms. (Source: EAPPI,World Council of Churches).  And regularly people die because they are unable to pass through checkpoints to access medical treatment.

Every parent wants their child to attend school and hope education will lead to a satisfying path-way into durable employment.

Every person is anxious when loved ones are ill and pray that the best medical care is available as soon as possible.

We all want our loved ones to be safe when they head off on a journey, anticipating our embrace when they return home.

Remembering Mary and Joseph, as a young and expectant family making their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, let us do all we can to help the ordinary folk be able to undertake a normal life.

A renewed focus on matters of our common humanity expresses our deep gratitude to God for the Incarnation: God amongst us, born of Mary in such a vulnerable and humble manner.

Our Saviour Jesus grew up, as we know, to do all He could, in Word and deed, to help ordinary people lead happier and more blessed lives.

In His Holy Spirit, we are compelled and delighted, at Christmas, do like -wise through our advocacy and generosity.


Bishop Phillip Huggins is a Bishop in Melbourne and a member of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network

For some Advent reflections from Christian Palestinian leaders, please see