By Bishop James Foley of Cairns
DURING 2014 the Middle East has seen violence as vicious and as vengeful as ever before. In Jerusalem itself recently people were axed to death as they prayed in a synagogue. Throughout the year there have been reports and grisly online footage of actual beheadings.
Why is this part of the world where Christ – the Prince of Peace – was born, so violent and blood-soaked?
The eastern end of the Mediterranean (translated roughly as middle of the earth) is a victim of its geography.
It is and ever was where East meets West.
That is why and where God chose to be revealed firstly and gradually to the Chosen Jewish People and then uniquely yet universally in Jesus Christ.
Geographically it was the right place. And historically it was the right time.
The Roman Empire was at its height and at its greatest extent in the last century BC, and the first century AD.
The Romans were great road builders.
Remnants of these cobble-stoned, well drained roads can be still seen and in places are still used across Asia and Europe.
Grooves from chariot wheels worked into the stones were at 1.43m apart.
This is speculated as the reason for adopting that as the standard gauge for railways.
These strong, straight roads were primarily for quickly and efficiently moving marching troops and war chariots.
But they also well served civilian trade and travel.
Along such roads in Palestine Jesus himself would have walked.
Later Paul and Peter travelled along them to Rome spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Roman Empire though everywhere dominant and ruthlessly forceful – yet kept an uneasy peace like the Cold War for decades after the Second World War.
This Roman Peace – Pax Romanum – kept age-old local ethnic tensions in check, and borders and local barriers were more open.
This was the right place and the right time to spread the Good News – the all-embracing Kingdom of God.
Strangely the later Turkish Ottoman Empire kept the Middle East similarly uneasily peaceful during more recent centuries.
That tired old empire exhausted itself during the First World War.
The Gallipoli campaign – a century ago this coming year (1915-2015) – was one of its last stands or wins – by default.
After the First World War the victors divided up that old empire into quite arbitrary regions which awkwardly evolved or devolved into the present conflicted nation states of the Middle East.
Islamic Jihad, with its goal of re-creating one large Islamic state, is now a consequence of this complex and contorted history.
God knows how and where this will lead.
Paradoxically at the centre of this – in time and place – is the birthplace of a poor defenceless child – the Christ Child – the Prince of Peace.