The American traditions practiced during the Christmas season make up some of my favorite times of the year. There are many different religious holidays throughout the year — Christmas is different. It’s a joy filled celebration of Immanuel — “God with us.”
“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” Matthew 1:23
All over the world and in many different ways, Christmas is recognized and celebrated. A story birthed in the Middle East. It’s not an American celebration — it’s a world celebration! A heavenly celebration!
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13 – 14
Sadly, God’s triumphant gift to the world — Jesus — the prince of peace, was not good news to everyone. The book of Matthew narrates for us the brutal reaction King Herod had to this news.
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. – Matthew 2:16
~ Innocents massacred ~
The evil that blind sighted King Herod is alive and well in our day too. A vivid display of this type of fear and hatred was played out in living color in Cairo, Egypt on December 11, of this year. An individual who believed he was doing the God of his religion homage, blew himself up in a Coptic Christian church, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. The suicide bomber targeted the section of the building where women and children are seated. To date it is reported that 27 people perished and over 45 were injured. The trauma inflicted on the community, and the country is undefinable. Grief is processed in tangible ways in Egypt. I am reminded of the weeping of God’s people in the days of Rachel, King Herod, and Cairo, Egypt today.
A sound was heard in Ramah, weeping and much lament.
Rachel weeping for her children, Rachel refusing all solace,
Her children gone, dead and buried. Matthew 2:18
The Coptic Christian churches are not strangers to persecution. The Christian population of Egypt are the minority, and they suffer in many ways. Suffering has not extinguished the light of Christ in the hearts of Egyptian believers — to the contrary, they burn brightly. They shine even further into the darkness.
I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light” – John Keith Falconer
After the brutal attack on the women and children at St. Peter’s, and St. Paul’s this month the Christians choose forgiveness, as their weapon for retaliation. A Coptic Christian leader, Bishop Anba Angaelos is quoted by The Christian Post as saying: “We are praying that there is healing in the community. We are ready to and we already have forgiven people for doing this because at the end of the day, a lack of forgiveness harms us more than anyone else.”
Egyptian Christians are part of a family of believers around the word who burn brightly in the face of fierce opposition. They are people of the cross. When the fires of persecution rage — their passion for Jesus is set ablaze. Loving your neighbor takes on a whole new life. Their reach is propelled even further. Extending love and care to both Christian and Muslim alike. Reaching out to their neighbors and strangers called “refugees.” Egypt continues to be a place of refuge, as it was in the days of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus.
Thinking of the refugee status of the holy family inspires me to love further. It encourages me to boldly step across the doorway of difference — and love well. Both, at home and abroad. What a gift God has given us — His great big love.
~ I called My Son out of Egypt ~
Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.” Matthew 2:14-15