Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When All is Not Calm and Bright

There were many things which made this Christmas season feel different from those past. For example, unlike so many other Christmases here in Southern Ontario, there wasn't even a hint of snow on the ground. As far as my personal Christmas schedule, for the first time in thirteen years, I'm balancing both school and work instead of coming off exams and having a week or so of holiday time. These two things are probably partly responsible for this feeling of difference. But I think it's more than that. It has to do with something that I simply didn't have last year: a greater awareness and understanding of Christian persecution.

Last year, I had no idea that Christmastime was one of the worst times of the year for persecution. This year, my email inbox is flooded with reports about present or potential church bombings, mob violence and massacres or stories of persecution endured by Christians in Christmases past. Indonesia, for example, caused a lot of back and forth in the media. One minute countries such as Australia and the U.S. are warning of attacks by Muslim militants (see here or here) and the next there are reports assuring the public that there are no signs of impending religiously motivated attacks. But regardless of what occurs this year, it is clear that violence against is Christians is a reality in our world, both during the holidays and all year round.

"So don't you get depressed?" People ask me when I tell them that Christmas can mean reading more reports of suffering Christians (or even an increase in reports of large scale or particularly gruesome persecution). I can completely understand such questions. After all, reading persecution stories certainly seems contrary to other activities meant to activate warm and fuzzy Christmas cheer. To be honest, when I realized that persecution could increase around the holidays, I worried a bit myself about whether or not this would dampen my "Christmas spirit." Would it change my experience of the season? Would I still be able to smile and sing lines such as "All is calm/all is bright" without feeling sad and frustrated about the numerous Christians suffering for their faith?

Well, now that it's December 27, I can honestly say that this greater awareness of Christian persecution has not at all hindered my enjoyment of the season. Of course it has not been (and will never be) easy to read persecution stories without feeling pangs of sorrow or anger. But even these seemingly "bad" feelings have been a kind of blessing in disguise. They've been the result of God's opening up my eyes and my heart to the plight of the Persecuted Church. They've led, and are still leading, me towards a better understanding of what it means to be wholly faithful to Christ.

Instead of purely sentimental platitudes about the comfort and peace of this season, I've been pierced the truth of the Christian life. So even when this truth stings---even when it make me want to cry out or weep---it is part of God's holy hope. This is a gift which endures long after the candles have been blown out, the presents have been opened and the 'Christmas spirit" has evaporated. For it, I am eternally grateful. And, by the grace of God, I will continue to live this hope, as well help to keep it alive for those who are persecuted for their Christian witness.

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