God of grace, today we pray for peace for the City of Bethlehem.
It has had more than its share of conflict,
as it has changed from a sleepy little town to a bustling city
that is visited by millions each year.
Lord, you know the walls that separate people in Bethlehem:
walls of concrete, walls of prejudice, walls of hatred,
walls between Israeli and Palestinian,
walls between Jew and Muslim and Christian,
walls between cultures and languages.
We can hardly think of another place on earth
with such high walls and such deep hostility.
Yet this is where you were born:
your everlasting light still shines in those dark streets.
Thank you that your light shines
in the goodwill of people who do not return evil for evil;
it shines in the patience of people who wait for a better future;
it shines in the creativity of people who make plans for peace,
even as powers and principalities make plans for war.
Your hope shines in refugee camps, in narrow city streets,
and it shines in churches around the world
who pray tonight for peace in Bethlehem.
Bulldozers and tanks can’t crush that hope.
Laws and regulations can’t stifle that hope.
Blockades and barricades can’t stop that hope.
Bombs and guns can’t blow it up.
Tonight the eyes of all the world turn to Manger Square,
as we remember the birth of the Prince of Peace.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of the heavens.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
O holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell,
oh come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.”
- The italicized lines of the prayer are from Philips Brooks’s “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” which he wrote in 1867 as he reflected on his visit to Manger Square in Bethlehem.
- Examples of peace prayers can be found in Carol Penner’s blog leadinginworship.com under the heading “Church year: Advent peace prayers.”
Read the advent feature article, "Pregnant with peace"