Image: Valeria Aksakova / Freepik
Sometimes I wonder if we’re all just big old magpies, dressed up in human form.
Flitting around from branch to branch, scouring the earth for the next big shiny thing. Lining our nests with all that glitters – even when it’s not really precious at all but an old piece of tin foil, or a plastic ring from a Christmas cracker, glinting as if it might be something special, foxing us with it’s own reflection.
Sometimes I wonder how we ended up chasing all that fools gold, seeking solace in tinsel and trees covered in lights, presents piled up underneath. Finding fleeting happiness as paper is fast-unwrapped, packaging piling around us; life –with all it’s cares and burdens – for just a moment, forgotten.
Sometimes, when you are surrounded by so much, it’s hard to keep finding the awe and wonder in the everyday. Hard to find anything at all that stirs your world-weary soul anymore to soar, and hope and dream.
Dream of a Christmas where half the world is not cowering beneath a bombed-out sky, looking up and waiting not for Santa and his sleigh to steal overhead, but for aircraft, heavy laded with all the wrong sorts of Christmas gifts.
Dream of a time where people do not live in fear, in hunger, without shelter, free to talk and share and speak of their faith without risking their lives.
In my comfortable, western life, I cannot imagine such suffering and persecution, and yet I know it goes on. Occasionally I see it on the news, more often I hear of it through books that I read, or through stories of people that I know living and working in places where even saying you are a Christian can result in your death. Does that really even exist anymore? Oh yes.
Would I have the courage to stand under that? To stand and stand and keep standing. Never wavering, never fearing, just holding fast to the hope that is in me, the Light of the World?
I read a story recently about two young women, imprisoned in Tehran, Iran, for converting to Christianity and daring to speak to other people about Jesus. Their courage and bravery was inspirational,but what was really startling for me, in this season of tinsel and glitter and all that sparkles, was the awe and the wonder that rose up in the women that they met, every single time the name of Jesus was spoken.
Women in prison, living in filth, tortured and beaten; for trying to escape a violent marriage, for being the wrong ethnic group, for getting caught in the wrong place with the wrong head covering, for being an inconvenience, for daring to have an opinion or trying to do a job. Women who live in a society where they are property, not people, who live at the mercy of another ruling over them, with no rights, no advocate, no hope.
Except this Jesus, who came down from heaven – God with us, Immanuel – to be our hope. God in human form, who does not require or demand anything from us apart from our love, and who offers us mercy, hope, compassion. Can we ever understand the newness of hope that springs up in the soul of a person who has never before met this Jesus? Whose only experience of religion is a forced one, covered in fear and obligation, hopelessness and never-changingness?
The books of the Bible that speak of the early church, letters written to baby Christians in places like Ephesus and Corinth, also tell tales of awe and wonder as it spreads through a society that has never before seen such love, such hope. Instructions on dealing with widows, with orphans, slaves and women – there because the early churches were crammed full of them. Oppressed people with no rights, living under a Greco-Roman household code that placed men at the top, and all else underneath, where their testimony was not even valid in a court of law, running to the one that offered them equality, a place to belong, a home. Running to Jesus, who loved women so much that he first appeared after his resurrection to Mary, the prostitute-turned-pupil, and told her to go tell the men (John 20:11-18). Who built a church that lived by the once-revolutionary-now-more-ordinary premise that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Churches where women could prophesy, tell of God’s goodness, where they are mentioned as leaders, as fellow-workers, as equals. In a society that did not afford them anything like that status. No wonder they loved Him.
We cheer now that this motto, once oh-so revolutionary, is taken for granted as a basic human right – for us here at least, if not for everyone, everywhere. But as we cheer, I will try this Christmas, as I baste my turkey and celebrate with my beautiful family, in our comfortable, privileged life, to conjure up once more some of that awe and wonder. To remember what exactly happened that night 2000 years ago, when God left heaven and collided with out world, ushering in – if we let Him – a new world order.
When He offered us something more than fear, something greater than chasing after the next shiny thing. When He gave Himself that we might live with Him forever. I will try and remember the newness of that, when those women and children and slaves in Greece and Rome and Israel heard it for the first time. When women today, living in societies that oppress and violate them, hear it for the first time:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Maybe here, we hear it so often that it becomes like white noise. The choice – because we have so many! – becomes unimportant. Our privilege, our opportunity, our options blind us to the awe and wonder found in the Christmas story. But my heart cry is simple. It is this: not this year, not here, not in this heart.
Don’t let me be blind to what He gave. Don’t let me be deaf to what He offered. And don’t let me be so dazzled by all that is around me, to my comfort and privilege and afforded rights, that I forget how truly blessed I am to live where I do, in the time I do, and that I don’t have to suffer what some people suffer every day because of their gender, their ethnicity or their religion.
To oppressed people everywhere: you are in my heart this Christmas. I don’t take this freedom for granted.
There are many great organisations working in war-torn parts of the world such as Syria, or supporting church communities in countries where they are oppressed. Below are a couple that you could donate to, but there are many more out there on the internet!