It’s December. The tree is up. Presents are being wrapped, and Christmas cake made.
We look forward to welcoming friends and family. For children, it’s the end of school and holidays are just around the corner. For many around the world this is the joy of Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is all this, and so much more. It is the fruition of our hope. The celebration of the promised Messiah. He is here – Emmanuel, God with us. Living amongst us. Experiencing what we experience.
Who though, is the ‘us’ that God is with? He is undoubtedly with you and me this Christmas and will be a part of the conversation, the church services, and the carols. But he will also be with the other ‘us’. Those not experiencing the restful holiday. In fact, when Jesus came on the first Christmas it wasn’t to a welcoming home but rather to a place where he wasn’t wanted. His experience was much more like those that new-born babies are experiencing now, in the same area that he was born to Mary. Conflict is not new. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were forced to flee their home as refugees, searching for a place to give birth and then flee from the murderous Herod. War is still creating the same pressure for millions around the world today.
War has come once more to the Holy Land. The pain and horror being felt by many across the region is immediate, devastating, and traumatic. In response, churches in the Holy Land have taken down the decorations and cancelled planned celebrations. For example a church in Bethlehem has reimagined its nativity scene with Jesus, the baby, hemmed in by rubble and surrounded by destruction. The scene reminds us of the solidarity that Jesus has with all our own experiences; the perfect example of solidarity he embodies is with the poor, the broken hearted, the captive and in bringing comfort to all who mourn (Isaiah 61).
The geography, culture, politics, and prophesy may make it understandable to consider Jesus in the midst of the Israel-Gaza war. The similarities are almost too striking (Matthew 2). His experiences are identical to those faced right now by many. Let us remember that Emmanuel is ‘God with us’ no matter the ethnicity or nationality. Let us also remember that ‘God with us’ is true in the middle of all the military action that currently rages around the world, from Ukraine to Sudan, Ethiopia to Myanmar. In fact, He is with us, all of us, no matter the confrontation; irrespective of our politics, religious persuasion, or how we celebrate Christmas.
As we celebrate Christmas with food and gifts and, hopefully, the peace of God, let us be grateful. If Christmas has meaning to us, we should remember the agreement that was first given to Abraham on his way to the Holy Land; if we are blessed, if we know protection and peace, God has done his part. Will we do our part? Will we be a blessing to others? (Genesis 12:1-3)
When he taught us to pray Jesus started with these words, “Our Father”. An inclusive phrase uniting us and highlighting our common connection. It brings us together and reminds us of who we are in relation to each other. This Christmas, remember to pray for those facing conflict of many kinds, in many countries, with whom Jesus has a shared experience. Let us pray that Emmanuel truly would be God with them.
By Mark Mitchell.