Wednesday, December 21, 2016

God (Still) With Us

At night these days I fall into bed and think of Aleppo.  I am safe and warm in my home.  My children are nestled snug in their beds.  I have had too much to eat, the sweets abound, and my coffee stash never runs dry.  I think of the faces I see online of regular, ordinary people like me who used to fall asleep to the same things I do, but now they run for their lives. They leave all their comforts behind.  It's funny the images that can impact you the most.  For me, it's a photo of a man, presumably a daddy, cradling his child in his arms, a child of about two perhaps.  I can't see the child's face, just her chubby little baby fat legs, brown skinned, dusty.  Such sweet little legs of a child being comforted by her father.

I pray for Aleppo at night.  I sing a song at night for Aleppo in my mind, an old one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written against the backdrop of war between the North and the South.

And in despair I bowed my head,
"There is no peace on earth, " I said,
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
of peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men."

I often sing the first of these stanzas, for the hatred in this world can be so overpowering. It can leave you hopeless, it can bring despair that just can't be overcome.  Until I sing the next stanza and I remember that it is true.  God is not dead, nor does He sleep. He sees every person in Aleppo.  He cares for each one.  Somehow, even in all this evil, He is at work.  The wrong will eventually be dealt with.  His righteousness will prevail.  He sees them.

And he sees me.  In the shadows of all this violence and evil, here I am in my warm home, well-fed, wealthy compared to the greatest percentage of the world.  It makes me feel so small, so insignificant to affect change when I think of those chubby legs, so like my own little guy's.  I am prone to feel guilty for this life immediately surrounding me, and to feel that all the Christmas preparations are so trivial, the gifts so ridiculous, the food so lavish- all so wrong- when half a world away, the world is falling apart.  I tend to think our celebration is a mockery of the very real crisis going on.

But I think it is no accident that this happens right now,  this time of year.  As Christians, and even those who do no claim to follow Christ, turn their hearts toward this idea of a baby being born a few thousand years ago, a baby who was God, and as we celebrate this miracle, it is not surprising that evil seems to overcome it and steal our joy in this:

That God is with us.  He did leave his throne and come as a baby.  He was born in poverty.  He was born during the reign of a cruel government.  His parents had to flee for their lives from a demonic king who wanted all little boys to die.  He did live a very normal and hard life and he died the worst death imaginable. But came back to life, by his own power raising himself from the dead. And he returned to his Father in heaven, sending us his Spirit to be God With Us.  Even today.

Christmas does still matter.  Because the story of Christmas is the most real, magical story there is.  And it lives on today as God shows us he is still with us.  Stories are coming out of Aleppo that God is there.  More close to home, our friends had their Christmas deliveries stolen this week - but they are being replaced by the company.  God is with them.  Last night we had Taco Tuesday with all our Bible study families.  We sang a few Christmas carols and worship songs.  We got in the Word of God. The kids were kind of wild and crazy.  As we turned out the lights and fell into bed, we just marveled at all the Lord has done in the four short months since we began the study and how our five lonely years here are suddenly changing.  God is with us.

Christmas is creeping up on us so quickly, and I do still struggle with how frivolous some of this seems in light of Aleppo, but as I wrap the gifts and curl the ribbon, I think of how the hate and the wrong will not prevail in this house.  We will celebrate the birth of our Savior and find him everywhere we go and in everything we do.  We will not let hate make a mockery of the peace we have with God and his goodwill toward all of us.  We will not let it keep us from loving those within our power to love.

We will continue to pray and give and seek to see that God is even in Aleppo.

We will remember, in the words of another beautiful carol, that "in all our trials, He was born to be our friend". (O Holy Night)

We wish you a Christmas that is refreshed by the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  May you know His peace, experience his goodwill, and enjoy his sweet friendship.

Please pray for Aleppo, and if you feel led to help, there are many wonderful ministries helping the refugees.  The one closest to the front lines seems to be The Preemptive Love Coalition.  Above all, please pray.