Finding a photo for our family Christmas card should have been easy this year, after all, we are living, walking and breathing in the place where it all began—where Jesus was born, lived, walked and breathed.

Sylvia and I would fix our makeup just right, I’d wrestle Everett into a pressed shirt and Ben would groom his mustache into a piece of art. Then we would walk around the city only to return home without that perfect picture from the Holy Land.

Every photo op seemed cliché:

  • In front of one of the many manger scenes.
  • In front of Bethlehem’s famed, gigantic Christmas tree.
  • In front of the Grotto of the Nativity where Jesus is said to have been born.
  • In front of the festive lights of the Christian Quarter.

If it wasn’t cliché, then it felt inappropriate:

  • In front of the separation wall while smiling (then, with our U.S. passport privileges, we’d travel back to Jerusalem without a hassle).
  • In front of a Christmas decorations store while smiling in East Jerusalem (a part of the city where mostly Palestinians live, and therefore is underserved and starved of the city’s basic resources).

Inserting ourselves into any of these autonomous scenes wasn’t authentic.

Eventually we thought of the courage of our Palestinian neighbors and co-workers to name the occupation and injustice as sin yet have the will and faith to celebrate because a babe was born.

This polarity is what makes it difficult to capture a Christmas card. The picture isn’t perfect here, but the faith and the resilience of the people mirror the perfection of the Christ child.

Maybe next year will be a little easier for our family to find the perfection in these two things until liberation becomes clearer.


For more from Adrainne and Ben Gray, ELCA missionaries serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, follow them via their blog,,  Instagram (@photobgray) or Twitter (@elcjhl).

Adrainne Gray
Adrainne Gray is an ELCA deacon, a Lutheran Diaconal Association deaconess, a daughter, a wife, and a mother of a teen and one adult child.

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