Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated
as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
Many of us know and love the Advent Story. It’s about Immanuel – God with us; the birth of the One who would save His people from their sins; and peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.
Peace on earth . . . goodwill . . . these are the things we like to think about at Christmas. Which is maybe why I’ve never seen a Christmas play that involves a dramatic re-enactment of Herod’s soldiers brutally murdering the baby boys in Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:16-18). Conflict and brutality don’t fit with the mellow, scandal free and sanitized version of Christmas we’ve created. The story we pass on to our children is usually purged of injustice and infanticide, and the fact that Christ’s cradle led to the agony and ignominy of the cross is also sometimes left out of the story.
Something’s lost when we truncate the story. The whole story really should be told. Christ entered the world amid struggle and strife. Let’s not forget the massacre of the innocents and that Joseph and his family had to flee to Egypt – were refugees in a foreign land (cf. Matthew 2:13-15).
Just as Christ endured persecution from the time of His birth, the persecution of His followers continues today. In some countries, if a person confesses Christ as Lord and Saviour, s/he can be imprisoned, tortured and even killed. And in the Middle East, countless atrocities are happening at the hands of ISIS.
Half of the world is closed to the Gospel of Christ. One-hundred million Christians were martyred in the 20th Century for believing in Him. When we unwrap presents on Christmas day there’ll be children in Liberia being sold into slavery. While we sing, Away In A Manger, a Coptic Christian shopkeeper in Egypt may be cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of her business being torched. And when we sit down to feast on a turkey dinner with our children and grandchildren, giving thanks for family and food, a child in Darfur may be newly orphaned because his parents have been murdered by the Sudanese military.
So don’t forget the story behind the Story. Pray for the persecuted church, for the victims of genocide, sexual exploitation, violence and other human rights abuses. Pray for the thirty-eight million refugees in our world. And as you pray, remember that Advent is about peace on earth – a peace that can only come when people encounter the One who came into a sin sick world to save sinners.