The First Advent in Palestine:

Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope

The First Advent in Palestine


When we picture the first Advent, we see Mary and Joseph huddled by a manger. We picture Gabriel, magi, and shepherds tending their flocks. A shining star against a midnight sky. But this harmonized version has lifted the Advent story out of its context—those who experienced the first Advent had to travel through great darkness to reach the hope that shining star announced. Trusted scholar and community organizer Kelley Nikondeha takes us back, to where the landscape of Palestine is once again the geographic, socioeconomic, and political backdrop for the Advent story.

Reading the Advent narratives of Luke and Matthew anew, in their original context, changes so much about how we see the true story of resistance, abusive rulers and systems of oppression, and God coming to earth. In Luke, Rome and Caesar loom, and young Mary’s strength and resolve shine brightly as we begin to truly understand what it meant for her to live in the tumultuous Galilee region. In Matthew, through Joseph’s point of view, we see the brutality of Herod’s rule and how the complexities of empire weighed heavily on the Holy Family. We bear witness to the economic hardship of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and the many villages in between—concerns about daily bread, crushing debt, land loss, and dispossession that ring a familiar echo to our modern ears. Throughout her explorations, Nikondeha features the stories of modern-day Palestinians, centering their voices to help us meet an Advent recognizable for today. This thought-provoking examination invites us into a season of discovery, one that is realistic and honest, and that still wonders at the goodness of God’s grace.





Praise for The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope   


“Kelley Nikondeha eloquently weaves together the first advent story and the present-day stories of Palestinians, creating invigorating insights for present-day Christians. Palestine then and now, its people, and the politics of the land are a common thread throughout the book, bringing us to a place to genuinely grapple with the meanings of deliverance, peace, justice, and hope. Through her personal encounters, Kelley makes the Palestinian experience visible in a world that has made them invisible. If you are looking for an Advent read that dives into new and raw paths, then The First Advent in Palestine is for you.”

—Shadia Qubti, Palestinian Christian peacemaker and co-producer of Women Behind the Wall podcast

“If you are wearied by or bored with the sentimentality and careless religious nostalgia of American Advent and Christmas, this is the book for you. Kelley Nikondeha takes a deep, alert dive into the natal poetry of the Gospels that has become for us too trite and jaded in its familiarity. She reads this poetry differently because she has, at the same time, made a deep investment in the contemporary life of real people in the actual circumstances of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, people who happen to be Palestinians who continue to be outsiders to imperial power. The outcome of her bold reading is to see that these Gospel texts initiated a peace movement into the world that defies and subverts the phony peace of every imperialism. This rich, suggestive book permits us to reappropriate in knowing ways the good news of Advent-Christmas, news that destabilizes and emancipates.”

Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary 


“A masterful and contextual reading of the biblical story, of suffering and a hard-born hope. Kelley Nikondeha leads readers into a journey through the tiers of multiple oppressions in Palestine from the first advent under the Roman Empire to the current oppression of the indigenous Palestinians under Israeli occupation, highlighting advent as a subversion of imperial power. As a female liberation theologian living in the global south, the author weaves contemporary reality and scripture together, thus uncovering hidden histories and silenced stories, giving a face and a name to the oppressed people, and creating fresh insights into their resilience and faith. A great resource for individuals and churches struggling with the complexities of justice and hope, and a powerful call in the practice of solidarity with the oppressed of this world.”

Mitri Raheb, founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem 


“Beautifully written, Kelley Nikondeha’s The First Advent in Palestine is empathetic and deeply moving—a call to love both Jewish and Palestinian people of the Holy Land. Reminding readers that acknowledging the real and profound struggles of one people group does not negate the reality and experiences of oppression in the story of the other. Highlighting the often-unknown stories of Palestinian Christians, First Advent is a call for liberation and light.”

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) and author of A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land 


“Kelley Nikondeha writes with the textual insight of Walter Brueggemann, the historical understanding of Borg and Crossan, and the prose-poetry writing style of Barbara Brown Taylor. She brings her own unique perspective as a Christian with a mixture of Catholic, Evangelical, US, African, and post-colonial experiences. The result is a reading of the advent stories that will illuminate the Middle Eastern world of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus—and our world today as well, so full of agony, anxiety, and pregnancy.”

Brian McLaren, author of Faith After Doubt (St. Martin’s, January 2021), among many others 


After On the Incarnation by Athanasius, The First Advent in Palestine by Kelley Nikondeha is the best book I’ve read on the incarnation, peace, and hope. Buy it, read it, and embody it in your community!”

Peter Heltzel, author of Resurrection City: A Theology of Improvisation 


“Kelley Nikondeha is a modern-day storyteller, and I trust her to speak the truth, even when it’s hard. In this book, she thoughtfully and powerfully leans into the gravity of Advent, reminding us that even the best-known stories are complex ones—that’s what makes them so powerful. Kelley’s words remind us that when the world is hurting, we lean in. We’ve needed this book for a long time.”

Kaitlin Curtice, author of Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God

“In a world of protests and splintering religious ideologies, a world longing for peace but preparing for violence, Kelley Nikondeha infuses the often predictable Advent narrative with a sense of place and history that demands engagement. Through scholarship and imaginative the-ology, and by listening to the current cries for liberation in our world, Nikondeha has written a book that is a love letter to Palestine and the people formed there. It is vital reading, and if you let it, it will change the way you read the story of Jesus’s birth—and how you live in light of this transformative event.”

D. L. Mayfield, author of The Myth of the American Dream and Unruly Saint: Dorothy Day’s Radical Vision and Its Challenge for Our Times   


“Like so many Westerners, Kelley Nikondeha experienced Advent brightly—angels, shepherds, a star, then a cozy manger scene. Then, her closer look at the Gospel’s’ advent narratives, framed by trips to Palestine, her life in eastern Africa, and her discovery of the central drama of what has been dismissed too easily as the “intertestamental period,” led her to see brutal empire, economic exploitation and hardship, dirty politics, the suppression of women, and persecution. She does not leave us there, though. It is precisely against this darkness that the light of the Savior that she knew all along shines all the more brightly—and calls us to be a light of peace in our darkness today. Every Christian should read this book every Advent—or at any time of year.”

Danial Philpott, professor of political science, University of Notre Dame 


“Advent is often a time filled with attempts to be holly and jolly, making cookies and shopping. With this book, Kelley Nikondeha rescues the season from the saccharine and oversimplified to give us hope—a hope that absolutely has to do with our present day, challenging us to engage in the slow and beautiful process the incarnation set in motion: the disarming practice of restorative justice, peace, and compassion. The author deftly weaves enlightening historical material concerning the political and economic landscape Jesus was born into with moving and beautifully written accounts of her own contemporary experiences among fascinating characters in the Holy Land and beyond. It is a pleasure to read, a call to attention, and a much needed reimagining of what Advent can be.”

Debbie Blue, author of Consider the Birds, Consider the Women, and Magnificat 


“Kelley Nikondeha walks us vividly through Scripture, history, and the complexities of today. Advent—with its longing, lament, hope, challenges, and calling—comes more alive page by beautifully written page. This book has made Advent more meaningful for me, and I highly recommend it because I believe it will do the same for you.”

Kent Annan, co-director, Humanitarian Disaster Institute (at Wheaton College) 


“The advent story is a story we all relate to, especially Palestinian Christians. During Advent, our Palestinian people connect with the Holy Family, a family with a new child who is born on the margins of society. This book reflects the author’s own journey to see beyond the wall separating two narratives. Kelley Nikondeha provides readers with new insights and the invitation to understand Advent beyond any wall of separation.”

Naim Ateek, cofounder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem 


“This powerful and poetic book has enriched my faith and deepened my understanding of the first advent. Kelley Nikondeha gets under the skin of the biblical narrative and breathes new life into it—seeing its drama play out through the lens of contemporary Palestinian reality.”

James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute and author of Arab Voices 


“Kelley Nikondeha’s writing is on fire. She set my heart ablaze, inviting us into the ancient advent story with a newness that made me underline and gasp and shout hallelujahs at the page. Read this if you dare.”

Idelette McVicker, author of Recovering Racists and founder of SheLoves Media Society 




what the women of Exodus teach us about freedom

defiant: what the women of exodus teach us about freedom


There would be no Moses, no crossing of the Red Sea, no story of breaking the chains of slavery if it weren’t for the women in the Exodus narrative. Women on both sides of the Nile exhibited a subversive strength resisting Pharaoh and leading an entire people to freedom. Defiant explores how the Exodus women summoned their courage, harnessed their intelligence, and gathered their resources to enact justice in many small ways and overturned an empire. Women find themselves in similar circumstances today. The Women’s March stirred the conscience of a nation and prompted women to organize with and for their neighbors, it is worth reflecting on the resistance literature of Exodus and what it has to offer women.

Defiant is about the deep work women do to create conditions for liberation in their church, community, and country. The women of Exodus defied Pharaoh, raised Moses, and plundered Egypt. We are invited to consider what the midwives, mothers of Moses, Miriam, Zipporah and her sisters demonstrate under the oppressive regime of Pharaoh and what it might unlock for us as we imagine our mandate under modern systems of injustice.

Kelley Nikondeha presents a fresh paradigm for women, highlighting a biblical mandate to join the liberation work in our world. Women’s work involves more than tending to our own family and home. According to Exodus, it moves us beyond the domestic territory and into relationship with women across the river, confronting injustice and working to liberate our neighborhoods so all mothers and children are free. Nikondeha calls women to continue to be active agents in heralding liberation as we organize and march together for one another’s freedom.





Defiant is exactly how I felt after reading Kelley Nikondeha’s book about the subversive women of Exodus. This eye-opening work disrupts the all-too-common habit of skimming over biblical female narratives to get to “the real action” involving men—in this case, the burning bush and the showdown between Moses and Pharaoh. Finally the female side of this story gets its due, not as a matter of fairness, but because we need these courageous female role models to embolden women and girls today. God paved the way to emancipate his enslaved people through the defiant actions of his daughters before Moses was even born. Three times these women saved Moses’ life. Without their defiant actions there would be no Moses. Defiant combines solid scholarship, creative imagination, current events, a global perspective, and Kelley’s own remarkable multi-cultural story to salvage examples of strong women whose holy defiance, I pray, spreads to God’s daughters in today’s world where oppression, abuse, and injustice seem hopelessly entrenched. Let the reader beware: Defiance is contagious!”
Carolyn Custis James
— author of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women and Finding God in the Margins
“Kelley Nikondeha fiercely embodies the work of loving solidarity, and this book is proof of that reality. So many of the women mentioned in this book have been forgotten, our own eyes tainted by patriarchy. Kelley invites us to look deeper, and her words give me renewed hope in what has been covered up again and again by empire— the enduring power of defiant, feminine resistance. Buy this book, and be renewed by the power of story and the fire of fierce love.”
Kaitlin Curtis
— author of Glory Happening and Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God
“In Defiant, the mixture of personal, political, and devotional blend to create a work that transforms our imaginations to see the possibility of shalom everywhere we look. Kelley Nikondeha shows herself to be a prominent voice of liberation theology, illuminating the twelve women of Exodus who have lingered in the shadow of patriarchy for too long. Her work transcends the usual genre of women’s ministry to invite all of us into the story of partnering with God to liberate the world. It is intoxicating, refreshing, devastating, and ultimately challenging. You, like myself, will walk away from this book understanding there is a long line of women to partner with as we seek to liberate ourselves and others from a world desperate to baptize inequality and injustice as the norm. Together, we will march towards liberation in an age of fear.”
D. L. Mayfield
— author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety and Power
“I dare you to read Defiant and not be moved to daring. For any woman who has fallen asleep in her own life, Kelley Nikondeha’s fierce words, fleshy stories, and fecund imagination will wake her up to the Pharaoh-defying power that is her story, our sisters’ story, both ancient and now. Next time someone pushes a Bible study on me, this is the book I am going to push back with; even the footnotes are a revelation.”
Erin S. Lane
— author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe
Defiant is a profoundly hopeful and deeply inspirational exploration of the extraordinary when in Exodus as well as the brave, imaginative, justice-seeking, coalition-building, truth-speaking women and girls of today. Nikondeha has given us a great gift to help us through these troubled times.”
Debbie Blue
— author of Consider the Women: A Provocative Guide to Three Matriarchs of the Bible
“Subversive. Collaborative. Glorious. Kelley Nikondeha offers a theological lens for the liberation work women have been part of since ancient times. Now wherever there’s an oppressive pharaoh with dehumanizing decrees, let’s look for the Nile Network of women collaborating for freedom and justice. Better yet — let’s be them. ⁣⁣”
Idelette McVicker
— founder and editor-in-chief of
“The best storytellers know how to locate the characters that are hidden in plain sight ad bring them to center stage. Kelley Nikondeha is such a person. She locates the “hidden figures” in the book of Exodus-the defiant women- and gives space for their narratives. She masterfully weaves the witness of Exodus women with women of our present era. In the weaving of these stories, Kelly invites us to see what we have failed to see and to listen to the ones whose voices are often overlooked. Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach us about Freedom is a generative book. It ignites the prophetic imagination and calls us to participate in God’s mission of healing & liberating broken creation.”
Cheryl Bridges Johns
— professor and practical theologian at Pentecostal Theological Seminary



The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World


Adoption is one of the most radically inclusive aspects of God’s kingdom. All of us belong to God’s family—Jesus as God’s son and the rest of us as his adopted children.

In Adopted Kelley Nikondeha explores how the Christian concept of adoption into God’s family can broaden our sense of belonging. Drawing on her own story as both an adopted child and an adoptive mother, Nikondeha invites readers to a rich, biblically grounded understanding of adoption that reframes the way we perceive family, friends, and those in need of rescue.

As Nikondeha unpacks the implications of adoption — and especially its potential to cross socioeconomic and ethnic boundaries — she offers new ways to approach conversations about family, adoption, connection, and the mystery of what it means to belong.





“Part memoir, part theological exposition, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World expands our understanding of what it means to be the family of God. As both an adopted person and an interracial adoptive parent, Kelley Nikondeha writes with transparency, tenderness, and racial awareness. . . . This wonderful book will illuminate a path for all people to experience sacred relationships.”
Christena Cleveland
— author of Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart
“Kelley Nikondeha writes with the heart of a poet and a theologian, and as an adopted child and an adoptive parent. Who could have guessed that her story could give such rich insight into theology, family, society, racism, fear, and belonging?”
Brian D. McLaren
— author of A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith
“We need to hear Kelley Nikondeha’s voice these days. Her Adopted will deeply shape your own prophetic imagination and create pathways of belonging in our world. I’ll be recommending this book to everyone.”
Sarah Bessey
— author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
“Kelley Nikondeha is my favorite kind of theologian—a hybrid of poet and prophet, both mystical and yet very much planted in our world. This book is a radical look at belonging, and it will change all of us who are looking for ways to expand our tables.”
D. L. Mayfield
— author of Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith
“Nikondeha effortlessly interweaves her lived experiences of adoption with provocative biblical stories and a daring theological imagination. So good!”
Drew G. I. Hart
— author of Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism
“As an orphan, daughter, and adoptive mother, Kelley brings a depth of experience and clarity of pen to this work of lived theology. If you’re looking to adopt a holistic theology of orphan care, grab this book.”
Seth Haines
— author of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith
“Through the metaphor of adoption, Kelley Nikondeha calls us to a vision of family that is generous, inclusive, and always ready to add another chair. This is the vision of the family of God I long for.”
Idelette McVicker
— founder and editor-in-chief of
“I am so thankful for this work from the brilliant mind of Kelley Nikondeha. Theologically rich yet entirely accessible, her Adopted will surely become a favorite among church leaders and laypeople alike. It’s easily one of my favorite books of the year.”
Nish Weiseth
— author of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World