A couple years back the political situation in one of the countries on our region, forced me to make a very difficult judgement call: will I tell the missionaries to evacuate or can they stay? It would mean for our missionaries that they would have to pack their things, prepare for a stay in another country for several weeks. Ministries would come to a standstill. What to do? In the midst of these safety concerns, other questions started to pop up. What about our national Pastors and their families? They cannot leave their country, they will have to stay. Safety and security turned out to be more complicated than previously thought.
We connect Christmas with warmth, reunion, peace, happy endings. The real Christmas story however, is filled with uncertainty, upheaval, hardships, and unexpected situations. All taxing people who in all earnest were responding to the Lord calling them. It seems a counter-intuitive dynamic. Isn’t responding to God’s call with the intention to fulfil His purposes the best way of succeeding? Why the obstacles and hardships? Why is the Lord not moving in a powerful way to remove mountains?
Jesus described what kind of a Messiah and King he would be, by quoting Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
He was to be an anointed king who brought good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, release to those in darkness. People who were clearly in situations of unsafety, violence and fear. Pondering this, I realised anew that for the good news to reach the poor, the Messiah has to come very close to those poor. Close enough to touch, to see, to listen, and then to speak. Healing the broken-hearted similarly calls for proximity, for sharing the same space, for entering into the pain. Releasing those in darkness cannot be done unless the King enters that darkness. He has to go in and find the captives, stand up to their guards, and take the prisoners by the hand and lead them out.
Three years later Peter was reminded by Jesus that glorifying God would mean, being led to places he did not want to go to. Glory is to be found in those hard, inconvenient places. Following in the footsteps of our King Jesus we are led to those ‘not want to go’ situations. As believers we too bring good news, and we find ourselves with people and places that have no initial appeal to us. Yet, in the darkness His light shines brighter. Freedom is most precious for those who are in bondage. God is glorified as we die to self.
As we celebrate Christmas (whether according to the Latin or Orthodox calendar), let us look again at the hard places we are facing. Could it be that these are not to be avoided but that we in going there, share the presence of the anointed King? Christ Jesus who seeks the poor, the blind, the broken-hearted and the prisoners? And if we share in His suffering we will also share in His glory. His joy, sanity, reconciliation and hope seeping through the cracks.
May the glory of the Lord fill your Christmas, as we are part of God’s mission.
Arthur and Annemarie Snijders