Away, In a Manger

It was our team’s final weekly prayer call of 2015, just a couple of days before Christmas Eve.  I dialed in a few minutes late, expecting to hear a cheery devotional, or the infancy narratives from Matthew’s or Luke’s gospels being read. Instead, in seeming rapid fire were a succession of three scripture-plus-reflection-plus-prayer meditations concerning some of the world’s toughest places, reflections on the Prince of Peace juxtaposed against conflict and war and refugee migrations… Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic.
I’ve had a couple of very busy weeks, and frankly I wasn’t terribly excited to get morose at the start of my day… And at this point you’re probably weighing whether or not to keep reading this, for the same reason. But there is something very right about taking off our cheery veneer of the idealized Christmas, nothing allowed that’s not merry and bright.
That’s the Christmas where everything is magical and perfectly ordered for our children, or else we consider ourselves to have failed them.  Last week, a colleague who is also a mom said that she’s been thinking about the mothers living in Syrian refugee camps, especially the Christian moms there who might also be feeling this pressure to “produce” Christmas for their own children amidst the insecurity and discomfort of life in a relief tent. She said, “I look at my nativity scene at home, and the roof over the manger reminds me of a tent. So I’ve decided this year to remember those refugee moms whenever I look at the scene, and I pray for them that they might get beyond their surroundings and all that they are not able to provide for their children, to find the comfort and joy in the Christmas story despite their circumstances.”
We were with a World Vision supporter at the time, and in the holy silence afterward, all he and I could say was “Thank you.”
I extended a similar thank-you today to the colleague who led our somber devotion time.  Thank you for reminding me again that it’s not about tossing a plastic Baby Jesus on top of the pile of Christmas gifts and raising a glass in thanksgiving to our comfort.  I cringe inside every time someone says, “When I look at all the problems around the world, all I can think is how thankful I am to live here.”
The Incarnation is the exact antithesis, a complete repudiation, of that sentiment… Jesus proactively giving up all power, comfort, and fellowship with the Father in order to come live with us, to be where we are. And not just to ‘we the privileged’—probably least to we the privileged. Perhaps most to those living in tents and constant insecurity. After all, he chose a poor teenage girl living in occupied Palestine as his mother. If the Incarnation tells us anything, as those who claim to be followers of Jesus, it tells us the proper way to respond to suffering: “When I look at all the problems around the world, I have to ask myself: What am I really doing to be in solidarity with those who are hurting—like Jesus was?”
The mystical night approaches quickly now, full of mystery and wonder. And so it is that a boy, a young Palestinian Christian boy, prays to Jesus that Santa will be able to cross the border checkpoints this year and come to visit even them.
There’s something very special about children’s prayers–their immediacy, practically, innocence…faith. 
I invite you to read this short prayer slowly, perhaps at the pace it would have been written, as it would have been felt. I could imagine it being prayed by candlelight, after darkness falls on Christmas Eve, this Night of Nights.  May we pray it in our hearts this Christmas for all God’s children…
   O Lord Jesus, protect us from danger, and distance the bombs away from our homes, because they have been destroyed and we are forced to leave our homes for the street.
   O Jesus, distance the evil from us and the missiles and the rockets so that we can go back to living peacefully and so that Santa Claus can come to us. Our teacher told us that at the military checkpoint, the soldier did not allow Santa Claus to enter Bethlehem. We want Christmas to come and want to decorate the tree like the rest of the children in the world.
   O Jesus, give us courage and strength to overcome fear and to live in peace and tranquility and freedom in our beloved land and precious Palestine.
Peace and tranquility and freedom on earth; goodwill toward all.
Christmas Eve 2015
Prayer written by Bisan Mousa, aged 7 from Talitha Kumi Lutheran School in the West Bank

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