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The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, resistance and the ongoing complexity of hope by Kelley Nikondeha

28 October 2022

This book presents an opportunity to engage with stories of Palestinian lives now, John Pritchard writes

THIS is an Advent book with a difference. It sails past the conventional religious landmarks of Advent and lands in the stories of present-day Palestinians, challenging the reader to look afresh at the high stakes of this precious season.

It is written by a liberation theologian and community organiser, who works in Burundi. She gives us a fine contextual reading of the biblical story, seeing the familiar figures of St Luke and St Matthew in the light of the multiple oppressions around them at the time, and which continue in analogous form in contemporary Palestine.

The author lines up the empires of Jesus’s time and ours, and concludes: “empires don’t stand a chance against this God,” but recognises that God’s unfolding peace campaign takes time. You need a long view of history but the tools of hope are all there already: hospitality, solidarity, and non-violence.

Nikondeha has done her homework. She has pondered the Gospel narratives closely and uses her imagination to offer suggestive detail. She has also met the present-day gospel personalities in Nazareth, Jerusalem. and elsewhere, speaking of their hard stories and their irrepressible hope. We see her talking with many of them, taking tea, walking down Star Street in Bethlehem, listening to peacemakers. She meets innkeepers and chefs, tattoo artists and young activists. She brings hope alive through their determination and patience.

The author writes poetically but fiercely. The beauty and imagination of her prose are not at the expense of her hard-edged theme that the incarnation is more than God’s entering humanity: it is God’s engaging with the human trauma of a specific place and specific people — which continues to be true today.

This is not a book of comfort, but neither is it a book to inspire guilt. It succeeds by insisting gracefully that there is more to Advent than we allow. Nikondeha invites us to look again at the personalities of scripture which we thought we knew, and in parallel, at the realities of the present inhabitants of the land.

It is almost certain that some of the names that we know so well and the terms that trip so easily off the tongue (the incarnation, non-violence, hope, peace) will acquire fresh energy as we read this provocative book. Advent could truly be a time to wake up.

The Rt Revd John Pritchard is a former Bishop of Oxford.


The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, resistance and the ongoing complexity of hope
Kelley Nikondeha
Broadleaf Books £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.39

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