Tomorrow marks my first Christmas spent an ocean away from my family. I miss them, and they miss me. Even so, in this season of life, I’m learning the truest expression of the spirit of Christmas.
There are many things I won’t get this Christmas. There won’t be any of my grandmother’s dressing, and Bing Crosby won’t be crooning over the house intercom. I won’t be playing Catch Phrase with cousins or or watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I won’t be reading Luke 2 with my mother, father, and sister while the living room Christmas tree casts its ethereal glow, and I won’t open any presents in the living room, yet I think, for the first time, I’m encountering a side of Christmas I’ve never known before … one I could not know in a land where the gospel is freely and openly available.
I’m not the only one who has ever spent Christmas far from the comforts of home and family. Every nativity scene in every lawn and on every mantle reminds us how Jesus spent His first Christmas thousands of miles from His home. He boldly stepped out of glory, left all His comfort in heaven, and wrapped himself in dusty human flesh.
“Your attitude should be the same,” Paul tells us, “as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:5-8). Are you getting this? Christ left the adoring worship of countless angels to come to a world that would trample on his kindness. He left the unfading light of heaven to come to a dark world … to shine.
I think, for the first time in my life, I am obeying verse 5–in a very small way. I’m coming to know, deeper than ever, the sacrifice it took to make Christmas happen. It took Jesus laying aside His rights, approval, convenience, and comfort to go to a place that needed hope. Joining with Him in laying down my rights, though, I find myself incredibly grateful, not that I get to do some great work alone, for others have shared the gospel here before, but that the Lord allows me to join Him where He is working … and believe me, the Christmas work is going on here.
A woman huddles in a van– just far enough inside to be out of sight to passersby on the street, but just close enough to the window see the singers on the stage outside. Our group is hosting an outreach event on the back of town aimed at a tribe known for its overwhelmingly Islamic following, and several musicians, for one of the first times ever in public, perform praise music in her native tongue. The street echoes, curious townsfolk gather, and Devin, my teammate, beckons her to come out to watch, but she resists. As she begins to share why, tears began to flow.
Miriam* just recently became a believer several months ago but fears for her safety if her community finds out about her decision to follow Jesus. “I just love Jesus so much,” she tells Devin with a purity and fervency that rocks him to the core. Those words carry great weight for a woman coming from a culture where the danger of following Christ is present and real.
Earlier this year, a light shone in the darkness of her soul for the first time, and for her, a love heretofore unknown has captivated her soul. For her, it is worth risking it all.
Please take a moment to read this aloud as a prayer for her from Psalm 91 and Acts 4.
Father, may Miriam dwell in your shelter, most high, and rest in your shadow. Cover her with your feathers, and be a shield around her. May she be lifted up on angels’ wings. Look upon the threats of her enemies, and grant her boldness that she may speak your word. Fill her with Your Holy Spirit, stretch out your hand to heal, and may signs and wonders be done through the Name of your Servant Jesus in her community. Amen.
“I just want to read the Bible,” Daoudi* says with surprising frankness. I stand in the street side shack, barely the size of a closet, which doubles as a mobile charging station and barbershop. Newspapers and posters line the walls and counter, flapping in the breeze from outside. Here stands a young man in his 20s, dressed in moderate western style but still carrying the close cropped facial hair common among young Muslim men. His mouth is full of chewed up khat, a plant native to East Africa widely used as a stimulant drug, and his deep brown eyes do not readily show how excited his soul now is.
Daoudi explained how he heard our event’s loudspeakers from his business and listened to the message about how the Quran actually states there is truth the Injil (the Islamic term for the gospels), as well as the Torat and Zabur (the Torah and Psalms). Daoudi was intrigued, and his curiosity spiked at the thought of getting his hands on a copy and reading it for himself.
You expect the unexpected in a back street on the back side of town on the back side of Africa, but I didn’t expect a Muslim to be so determined to read a Bible in his own language for the first time.
“It’s your lucky day–I’ve got one with me tonight.” I pull a Bible out of my satchel and, with great weight on my voice said, “I’ve only got one of these in Swahili, so as you receive this gift, you must read it, and we will talk later together about it.” He readily agrees and takes the gift from my hands.
We haven’t yet discussed in depth, but he tells me he has read the Bible and found “many interesting things.” Now he keeps asking me for videos about God and the life of Jesus. “If I watch, then I will understand and remember,” he says with emphasis. Though he seems loth to give up his tightly held beliefs about Muhammad, I already know that real truth is stating to break in … For the first time in his life, a light pierces the darkness. Only time will tell how Holy Spirit sheds light on the gospel for Daoudi.
Please join me in praying this prayer for a moment from Ephesians 1:17.
God of our Lord Jesus Christ, glorious Father, give this man the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of you. May the eyes of his heart be enlightened so that he may understand the hope to which You have called him and Your power available to all believers. Amen.
Whilst friends and family post screenshots on Instagram of their favorite Christmas movies, quite a different story unfolds on the screen of my life. I have the amazing privilege this Christmastime to watch the Son of God being borne into the darkness in the lives of these two dear individuals, as well as many more, and just as Christ started Christmas 2,000 years ago by going into a strange land far away from His Father, I go as well.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:4, 5, 14). The first Christmas gift was not in a box–it was the living, breathing presence of God among a rebellious world. The original Christmas gift, the gospel, was not a present, but His presence. In light of such love, the least I can do is give the gift of my presence.
Stay grateful, my friends.
*Names are changed to protect the identities of those mentioned.