Aaron White has written a Daily Advent Prayer Guide that connects the ancient nativity story with the realities of displaced people today.
Each week during Advent (December 2 – 25) I will post the daily guides; this week I have posted Thursday, December 13 – December 25.
Advent Day 12: (December 13): Children at Risk
“Refugee and migrant children are particularly vulnerable to violence. . . . It was estimated in 2016 that three-quarters of children aged 14 – 17 years arriving in Italy through the Mediterranean route had been subject to exploitative practices, such as being held or forced to work against their will. Data showed that in Central America and the Caribbean, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa, children represented over 60 percent of trafficking victims.”1
Refugee and internally displaced children are especially vulnerable to exploiters. This situation, and the above statistics, should remind us of Psalm 10:
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
When the children around Bethlehem were killed by Herod’s command, a wail went up in the land. It called to mind the cry of the parents whose children were lost during the siege of Jerusalem and subsequent exile in Jeremiah’s time. We too should lament the exploitation of children in the world today, and pledge to work for justice and safety.
Read: Jeremiah 31:1-17; Matthew 2:16-23
Pray: Join Jeremiah and Rachel in mourning the experience of exploited children in our world. Add your tears to theirs.
Advent Day 13 (December 14): Women and Girls
50 percent of the world’s refugees are women and girls. IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Women and girls who are refugees face a particular kind of vulnerability and violence. Rape is used as a terror tactic around the world and throughout history. In refugee camps in Bangladesh they are seeing up to 60 children born a day, because “an estimated 90 percent of female Rohingya refugees were raped during the Burmese Military takeover of Rakhine State around nine months ago.”2 This is a Crime Against Humanity to which the world must respond.
But it is important to emphasize that this is not the beginning or end of the story of refugee women and girls. It is too easy to simply highlight the dangers they are facing and to paint them solely as victims, or as problems to be sorted. Refugee women and girls are not “problems”. The Brave Global Campaign, an initiative to reach vulnerable girls around the world, affirms that “girls are the solution not the problem.”3
The Nativity story illustrates this in a unique and surprising way. Most of us tend to skip over, or at least race through, the genealogies that are scattered throughout the Hebrew scriptures. We don’t get them, the names are difficult to pronounce and it seems difficult to extract any devotional meaning from them. We finally get to the New Testament, thrilled that these long incomprehensible lists are over and done with, but surprise! Matthew 1 kicks everything off with another recitation of begats and begots.
Pay attention though, because this genealogy is strange. It includes women, which was not normal. In fact, it includes five women, four of whom are named, four of whom were “foreign,” and all of whom were tainted with some kind of sexual scandal. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba, so scandalous they could not even write out the name) and Mary.
All women included and essential to the story of Jesus, just as the women he interacts with during his life are included and essential. In certain histories of Israel these women would be highlighted as part of the problem to be fixed, but here they are part of the solution. The line from Abraham to David to Jesus does not happen without them. Women are front and central, scripture is saying, in the gospel story of Jesus.
We can help change the narrative around refugee women and girls from that of “victims” to that of “brave,” “strong,” “resilient,” “creative,” “wise” and “essential.” They are not the problem, they are the solution to the problem, so let’s learn to think and act that way.
Read: Matthew 1:1-17. Consider looking up the individual stories of the women in the genealogy as well.
Prayer: Pray for the women and girls in your life, thanking God for them. Pray for the Rohingya women in the camps and consider researching more of their story and writing to your government representative on their behalf. And read here a story of refugee women in Kenya who are very clearly part of the solution.
Advent Day 14 (December 15): Entertaining Angels?
The USA received 331,700 new applications for asylum in 2017. Germany received the second highest number of applications (198,300) and Italy third (126,500), Turkey fourth (126,100) and France fifth (93,000). IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Canada had the ninth most applications for asylum, with 47,800, more than double the 23,600 from the previous year.
If one were to believe some media reports and political rhetoric, North America is being overrun by asylum-seekers. The truth is that compared to the larger movement of people around the world, comparatively few people are making it to the West, and the USA and Canada are mostly shielded from the refugee crisis. Volker Turk, in charge of refugee protection for the UN, has said that “Canada’s recent spike in irregular migrants is nothing compared to the millions of refugees who pour every year into much poorer countries.”4
Remember this when you hear someone in the media, over social media, or even around the family Christmas table start talking about the “vast tides” of refugees coming into our country.
Also remember the biblical mandate to provide hospitality. Hebrews 13:2 instructs the reader to not neglect hospitality to the stranger, for some have even entertained angels without knowing it. It is possible he was thinking here of the story of Abraham welcoming angels-in-disguise on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.
I like to think of the multiple times Angels are “welcomed,” or at least encountered, in the Nativity story, from the announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah; to Gabriel hailing Mary with the pregnancy news; to the dual messages to Joseph about accepting Jesus and fleeing to Egypt; to the warning given to the Magi about Herod; to the angelic throng scaring the shepherds half to death. In each case the angels announced something that was difficult but good and required action from the human characters in the story.
We don’t need a full-blown angelic visitation to tell us to practice hospitality. We have already been called by divine command to welcome the stranger. It is not always easy to find the best way to do this, but it is good, and requires our action.
Read: Luke 1:5-20, 26-38, 2:8-14; Matthew 1:20-25, 2:12-13, 19-20. Hebrews 13:1-3.
Prayer: Ask God for opportunities to give hospitality to the stranger. Ask him to prepare your heart, your home, and your community to welcome people who are coming into your city and neighbourhood.
Advent Day 15 (December 16): Developing Hosts
85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent for a moment and consider: Do we in the developing world have a sense that our wealth, political systems and technology are the answer to the world’s problems? Might that sense be . . . wrong? Might we need to repent for both our arrogance and our close-fisted and hard-hearted approach to those in distress?
We will get into the actual numbers and countries involved in hosting refugees in the days to come, but for now let us be confronted by this well-supported fact: 85 percent of the world’s refugees are being hosted by developing countries. Not by wealthy Western countries.
In a way, this should not surprise us. All throughout scripture, and indeed history, God seems to use “unlikely” people and nations to bless the world. When the Angel Gabriel arrived to announce that the Messiah would be born into the world (surprising enough in itself), the choice of Mary to host the child in her womb was, from a worldly perspective, unlikely. She was socially, economically, politically, technologically and ethnically vulnerable.
Presumably she knew all her disadvantages, all the reasons she should protest and say no. She does in fact as the obvious question of the Angel, but once assured that what we think is impossible is possible for God, she quickly joins her will to God’s: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
Mary’s “yes” changes the world. She is the very first person to “accept Jesus into her life,” in a very literal way, becoming for us a model for us. Her hospitality to the king of creation creates a way through which redemption and salvation personified enters the mud and blood of human existence. An unheralded, unknown, unlikely young woman opens herself up to be a host, and the entire world is blessed.
What if more people said yes? What if we considered the blessing before the cost? What if God wants to bless the world, not through all our wealth, but through our willingness?
Read: Luke 1:26-38
Pray: Lord, make us willing. Bless those who have been willing, even at great cost, to host the world’s sojourners. Lord, if our wealth stands in the way of our willingness, please remove it from our hands so that we would be ready to receive.
Advent Day 16 (December 17): Hosting Numbers
85 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing nations. 31% of the world’s refugees are hosted in sub‐Saharan Africa. 31 percent are hosted in Europe (including Turkey). 21 percent are hosted in Asia/Pacific. 14 percent are hosted in the Middle East and North Africa. 3 percent are hosted in the Americas. IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent for a moment and consider: How much is 3 percent? Is God satisfied with 3 percent of our attention, devotion and obedience?
There is another very unlikely character in the Nativity story. Almost the first things we learn about Elisabeth, wife of Zechariah the priest, is that she is childless, barren and old. Surely this threatened to be her primary identity, self-imposed but also in the eyes of others. Yet this is not all that she is.
Luke highlights that she descends from Aaron, thus carrying a “priestly” inheritance just as her husband. We also learn that she, like Zechariah, is righteous in the eyes of the Lord, “observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” She is not just an empty vessel to God, but is filled with goodness already.
Yet for all this she is still a surprising option to carry a divinely-appointed child, at least in the perspective of the world. Too old, too barren, not a viable candidate for pregnancy. But the joy she had thought denied to her now descends upon her in a miraculous way.
The meeting of Mary and Elisabeth, both carrying children of promise in their wombs, is more than just an occasion for Elisabeth’s baby to start moving around a little more. Here are two of the seemingly least likely actors in the central story of humanity, greeting each other in an unmarked home in the hill country of Judea, far from any centre of political power, wealth or influence.
How many significant meetings, between divinely-significant people, are happening in refugee camps, along the refugee highway, in host countries in sub-Saharan Africa, forgotten European ports, in Asia/Pacific or the Middle East and North Africa?
Let us not be so enamoured with our sense of centrality and importance that we overlook God’s beloved people around the world, or miss out on what he is doing.
Read: Luke 1:5-25, 39-45
Pray: Get out a map and pray over the regions mentioned above. Pray for 10 minutes, rationing your time according to the hosting percentages. Spend 3.1 minutes praying for sub-Saharan Africa; 3.1 minutes for Europe; 2.1 minutes for Asia/Pacific; 1.4 minutes for the Middle East and North Africa; and .3 minutes (18 seconds) praying for the Americas.
Advent Day 17 (December 18): Room at the Inn
Who is hosting refugees? “Turkey (3.5m), Pakistan (1.4m), Uganda (1.4m), Lebanon (998,900m), Iran (979,400), Germany (970,400), Bangladesh (932,200), Sudan (906,600), Ethiopia (889,400), Jordan (691,000) host the most refugees in the world.” IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent for a moment and consider: What is your perception of the above countries? What is that perception based upon? What do you actually know about them?
Much is made of the fact that there was “no room at the inn” for Mary and Joseph. In our Western mindset we sometimes imagine a crotchety landlord barring the doors of some low-rent motel and telling the expectant couple to get lost.
But hospitality in the Middle East was, and still is, serious business. If Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn, there really was no room at the inn. So, they were given another space to rest and to deliver their baby, because they would not be left without hospitality of any kind.
Hospitality in the West has often become a formal, professionalized thing. It puts us in mind of dinner parties or Air BnB’s. Hospitality to the poor has been almost entirely delegated to social agencies and government-funded shelters.
Our homes are normally seen, even within the church, as private places, safe and sacred spaces for us and only a few selected other people with whom we are comfortable. Thank God that is not hospitality the world over.
This is not to say that refugees are all being housed in people’s homes throughout Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, etc. There are far too many people for that, in part because other nations have closed their borders. For when a country refuses to receive refugees it does not make the problem of offering hospitality go away, it just transfers the responsibility to another country.
As we can see in the list above, for the most part that responsibility has been transferred to some of the poorest nations in the world. We can, and must, do a better job of making room in the inn.
Read: Luke 2:4-12
Pray: Get out the map again, then find and pray for each of these nations in turn. Thank God for how they have hosted refugees, and pray for wisdom, provision and peace in these lands. Then pray that other nations would step up to receive the blessing of hosting as well. Check here to see more current refugee realities around the world, and to see how you can help.
Advent Day 18 (December 19): A Tiny Fraction
A tiny fraction of the world’s refugee population was resettled in 2017 (less than 1 percent). 35 countries received a total of 102,800 refugees for resettlement. Leading countries of resettlement include the USA (33,400), Canada (26,600), Australia (15,100), the UK (6,200) and Sweden (3,400). IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent for a moment and consider: How much is 1 percent of your city? Imagine your city was in dire need, and only 1 percent could be helped.
Resettlement is when a refugee is unable to return home but is welcomed to settle another country. As we can see above, this is not exactly a popular option amongst most countries. Talk of resettlement is often met with cries to “take care of our own first!” There is also a heavy dose of NIMBY in a lot of places: Not In My Back Yard. As a result, the number of refugees being resettled is miniscule compared to the refugee population.
We like to keep our “blessings” to ourselves. Thankfully, this is not God’s attitude towards us. When the angels appeared to the shepherds, the good news they brought was intended to cause “great joy that will be for all the people.”
This news was not exclusive to the shepherds, nor even just for Bethlehem or Judea. Jesus’ final message to his disciples was that they were to take the message of the good news to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
We tend to read the above as an impulse to evangelism and mission, but perhaps we should see it as instructive for how we share our blessings. Craig Greenfield says:
If your church romanticizes the Hondurans they meet on short-term mission trips, but demonizes the Hondurans seeking asylum in a refugee caravan, it might be time to re-examine what mission is really all about.
Start asking questions about how many refugees your country, and your area, are resettling, and why.
Read: Luke 2:8-11
Pray: “Father in heaven, please be near those who are forcibly displaced today. Some know you. Others do not. You love them all. May they all know your presence, protection and provision. You have not forgotten them. You know their names. You know their stories. You know their journey. Please lead them. You are not far from them. You know their loss and suffering. You suffered too. Please heal and comfort them. You are not against them. You deeply care for each man, woman and child. Please renew their faith, their hope and their strength. They’ve lost their place in the world. Be their refuge. Graciously lead them to a safe place where they can settle and rebuild their lives. We pray for peace, justice and reconciliation in their countries of origin. We pray in the name of Jesus who was once himself a refugee in Egypt. Amen.” http://iafr.ca/opportunities
Advent Day 19 (December 20): From Where?
68 percent of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria (6.3m), Afghanistan (2.6m), South Sudan (2.4m), Myanmar (1.2m) and Somalia (986,400).” IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent and consider: What circumstances would make you flee from your home, your city, your country?
There is a lot of fear around the refugee situation. Some of the fear is manufactured by authorities or media outlets, because it is useful to keep people afraid, and in particular afraid of the Other. People are more easily manipulated when they are afraid, and more susceptible to marketing. (This fear can be exacerbated by the tiny percentage of newcomers who commit crimes in their host countries.)
There is also fear because we are generally cautious about that which we don’t know. New cultures and customs, languages, religions, etc do not always mix seamlessly with the culture and norms with which we are familiar, and this can make us uncomfortable.
When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem with, they thought they were bringing good news, but their presence and their purpose evoked wide-spread fear: “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” Who were these strange foreigners? Why had they traveled so far to get here? Where were they going and what were they planning? Why were they talking about a new-born king of the Jews?
Herod, his advisers and apparently all Jerusalem with him did not see their arrival as good news, but bad news. Dangerous news. The kind of news that results in secret meetings and vicious schemes. The kind of news that authorities respond to with violence, threats and fears. Herod feared the Other and the change that they represented.
The five countries cited above as the source of 68 percent of the world’s refugees are ones that, sadly, many of us in the West have been taught to fear. They have been characterized as “bad news” to us, and it is nearly impossible to shake that conviction from some people’s minds.
But what if, in our trembling, we are in danger of missing out on God’s good news? What if we have been duped by those who would profit from our fear? What if we learned to see people from these countries not as a threat to our safety, but as beloved children of God who themselves are fleeing from a genuine threat to their safety?
Read: Matthew 2:1-18
Pray: Get out your map once more and begin to pray for Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Pray for God’s peace, justice and order in the situations that are causing so many people to flee. Pray for the people who are fleeing, that they would find refuge and welcome and long-term safety. And pray for your heart, and the hearts of people in your church, your city, your country, that you would not be governed by fear but by wisdom and love. Finally, ask yourself if there are ethnic groups in your city that you have been conditioned to fear, and see if there are ways to connect with local community associations to help you meet people and overcome your fears.
Advent Day 20 (December 21): Genealogy
These are the countries that are producing the most displaced people (Refugees, IDP, and Asylum Seekers):
1. 12.6 million – Syria
2. 7.9 million – Colombia
3. 5.1 million – DR Congo
4. 4.8 million – Afghanistan
5. 4.4 million – South Sudan
6. 3.3 million – Iraq
7. 3.2 million – Somalia
8. 2.7 million – Sudan
9. 2.1 million – Yemen
10. 2.0 million – Nigeria
2.0 million – Ukraine
*Note that there are also 5.4m Palestinian refugees in the Middle East for which the UN reports separately. IAFR: Refugee Realities 2018 FAQ
Be silent for a moment and consider: How do you define family?
Here is another list of countries that we in the West have been taught almost nothing about, except that we should fear them. The words that come to mind for many when they encounter this list are: chaos, poverty, terrorism and enemy. Whole cultures, people groups, families and individuals are reduced to the sum of our ignorant fears. We define them as first and foremost separate from us, not a part of us.
Once again, we should remember that people do not leave their homes and everything they know on a whim. The people who are fleeing their homes are doing so because there is a genuine and credible threat to their safety and their family’s safety, and they are looking for a place to be where they can be safe.
But even more, we must remember that these are our brothers and sisters. Their past, present and future is inextricably bound up with ours.
Luke reminds us of this in the second genealogy we come across in the Gospels. Where Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham, Luke is a little more ambitious and takes us all the way back to Adam, and in fact to God. Jesus is shown here to be the Saviour of all humankind, and we are confronted with the fact that we all share a common heritage. Jesus incarnated, lived, taught, was persecuted, died and was resurrected for all of humanity, not just certain parts of it.
It makes no sense, therefore, to believe that the countries on the above list are not part of us, and that we are not part of them. They are our brothers and sisters. All of us are caught up in the same family line with Jesus. Do we dare come to God with the ancient question: “Am I my brother’s/sister’s keeper?”
Read: Luke 3:23-38
Pray: Pray for your family. Start with your immediate family, then start moving outwards to your extended family and your church family. Then start going further and further out. Ask God to help you see those who are fleeing violence and terror in the above countries as brothers and sisters as well. Ask God what it means, on a global scale, to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
Advent Day 21 (December 22): Why are we surprised?
International Association for Refugees (IAFR) works with 160 churches that live and minister in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. See a short video here.
Be silent for a moment and consider: What does a typical “church” look like, in your experience? How might church be different in a refugee camp? How might it be the same?
It is both wonderful and humbling to find God in unexpected places. It is wonderful because God is working all over the world, and no walls, governments, social situations, economic conditions or wars can keep God out. It is humbling because of course God is there, and why would we think it was unexpected in the first place? That has a lot more to do with our expectations and cultural assumptions than it does with the power of the Gospel.
Many Christian groups have the idea that they should plant churches, and of course this can be a very good thing to do. But check first. Are there already Churches ministering and serving where you want to plant? Do they need you, or even want you to come in and start something new? Or is it better to partner and support the ministry that is already happening?
The Nativity story includes many “unlikely” characters, not the least of which are the shepherds in Luke 2 and the Magi in Matthew 2. One group are local agrarian workers, the other are foreign intellectuals. They were both “unlikely” groups (in the world’s view) to be visited by a host of angels, or to be guided by a star, and to show up at the birth of the Messiah.
Why would God choose them of all people as witnesses? Well, why should it surprise us that he does? Both groups attend the mother and baby at different times, and afterwards the shepherds announce the good news of the birth to anyone who would listen. They are the first evangelists. And the Magi presumably share what they have seen when they return home as well.
Refugees come from every background, from hard-working farmers to well-educated intellectuals, and everything in between. Many of them are Jesus-followers who carry a missionary heart with them wherever they go.
When IAFR went to Kakuma they wisely partnered with the churches already worshiping, serving and living within the camp. The churches they are working with represent only a portion of those that are ministering there. What’s more, these churches are now planting new ministries outside of the camp, because the Gospel cannot be stopped. God is on the move, and it should not surprise us that he is working in and through the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Read: Luke 2:8-20
Pray: Ask God to uncover your false expectations and assumptions about what he can or cannot do in the world, and to replace them with awe and wonder at his plan, his love, and his power. Thank God for the churches being run by refugees all around the world, and the way the Gospel is advancing in the midst of the crisis of mass human displacement.
Advent Day 22 (December 23)
“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the treaties and the history of residential schools.”1
Be silent for a moment and consider: How would you feel if the history of your people, which included incredibly hardship and resiliency, was misrepresented or entirely ignored in your nation’s history books?
The above is the 93rd of 94 “Calls to Action” detailed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report for Canada. The report examines the historic abuses suffered by Canada’s First Nations at the hands of settlers, governments, social agencies and churches. It also details the resiliency of the First Nations peoples, and the ongoing legal implications of the treaties that were signed between the Nations and Canada.
The 94 calls to action include but are not limited to: formal apologies from the nation and church denominations; child welfare; health; language and culture; spirituality; education; the justice system; missing children and burial information.
What we see in this report is the devastating legacy of the forced displacement of Indigenous people in Canada, a policy and practice that began with first contact, went through the residential school system, includes the “Sixties Scoop” of children from their families, and continues today in systemic and structural racism. The First Nations of North America have been internally displaced people for generations, a fact that is only now being officially recognized in some places.
Canada has failed to honour its elders, failed to listen to and respect the people who were here first, the people who offered the deepest and costliest hospitality to the European settlers. The TRC’s 93rd call is for an honest and inclusive history of Canada to be taught to newcomers, including refugees. If we do not tell the truth about the past, there can be no hope for moving forward.
Read: Luke 2:22-38; Revelation 7:9-12. Consider also reading the full text of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, found here.
Pray: Start reading through the 94 Calls to Action and pray for each one. This will take some time – days or weeks – but it is worth our time. Ask what role you have in seeing these calls acted upon, and if there is any change that is needed in your own heart. You can find the text of the 94 Calls to Action here.
(As of November 2018, only 10 of the calls have been completed, 19 are in progress, 32 have projects proposed and 33 have not been started.2)
Advent Day 23 (Christmas Eve)
Is there hope?
Be silent for a moment and consider: What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Where do you find hope when things seem hopeless?
This Advent prayer series has highlighted incredibly disturbing facts and realities about the refugee situation in our world, from the vast number of displaced people to the tiny fraction of refugees being resettled; the millions of newly displaced people that are expected in the next year; the danger to women and children on the move; the poverty of the nations that are hosting most of the world’s refugees; and the generational displacement of Indigenous people in places like Canada.
Where is the hope?
The book of Revelation is not one that is normally used for Christmas. It describes a world that has gone so far wrong it seems beyond redemption, with the overwhelming forces of Empire, violence and greed pitted against vulnerable communities of Jesus-followers. In spite of this, the message of Revelation is one of hope against despair. Remain faithful, the book says, persevere, and you will see the mountains brought low and the valleys raised up. It is the fulfillment of Mary’s Magnificat.
This is particularly appropriate because in Revelation 12 we see the Nativity from a supernatural point of view. John describes the events of Jesus’ birth through the poetic and apocalyptic imagery of an enormous red dragon and a pregnant woman clothed with the sun. When the child Jesus is born, the dragon (the Accuser, the ancient serpent) waits to devour him the moment he is born. But the child and the woman are snatched up to safety.
The dragon is frustrated, and ultimately expelled from heaven, which brings both joy and woe. Joy, because it has been defeated in heaven, and will no longer accuse humanity before the throne. Woe, because its expulsion brings it to earth, filled with fury, where it will wage war on the followers of Christ and the creation of God through deception. But there is more joy than woe, because the ultimate defeat of the dragon will come by the blood of the Lamb and the testimonies of the saints. Even the created order frustrates the dragon as the earth swallows up the waters the dragon spews forth.
The dragon’s defeat is assured. It cannot devour the child, it cannot destroy the woman, and it cannot deceive or overcome the woman’s other offspring, who are the church, the saints of God. But the battle is still fierce, and the defeat of the dragon involves the martyrdom of the saints who are obedient unto death just like their saviour and king.
Christmas is often thought of as a time of comfort and joy, but it must also be remembered as a time of invasion, danger, flight, warfare, death, martyrdom, kingdoms crumbling, the announcement of a new king. As we pay attention to the woes of this world and the seemingly impossible situation facing millions of refugees, let us remember that we all still have reason to hope. In the end, the dragon is defeated.
Read: Revelation 12:1-17
Pray: Sing O Little Town of Bethlehem, paying special attention to the line, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Advent Day 24 (Christmas Day)
Joy to the world!
Be silent for a moment and consider: What is the good news? What is good news to displaced people? To an asylum-seeker? To someone in a refugee camp? To someone awaiting resettlement? To someone longing for truth and reconciliation? What is good news to you?
Here is the really good news: we are neither hopeless nor helpless as we face the refugee situation in the world, nor any of the trials and troubles that assail us. Christ has come, and he is still present in our midst! And whether we do big things or small things, if we do them faithfully and with the love of Christ, they have eternal significance. Jesus is with us.
Here is the brief story of one house in Canada that is continuing to bring the joy of God into the world:
Silas Hill opened its doors to refugees in January 2016. The majority of residents at Silas Hill are refugee claimants. These asylum seekers receive care and support at the house during their first few months in Canada.
Silas Hill is a ministry of the Peoples Church in Toronto, and was created in response to the question of how we as a church could best respond to the refugee crisis that is facing our country and our world. Thousands of refugees are fleeing their homes due to danger and persecution. They come from all around the world and seek a safe home and a new beginning in Canada. Silas Hill has responded to this need by providing a safe home for approximately 8-14 refugees at a time who would otherwise have no safe place in Toronto.1
Silas Hill is a beautiful expression of God’s love for his children. And it is not the only one! Across Canada, and around the world, churches and faith groups and communities and individuals are responding to the refugee crisis with love and joy. Let us live up to our identity as carriers of hope, makers of peace, distributors of love and singers of joy!
Read: Luke 2:13-14
Pray: Sing “Joy to the World” as a defiant hymn of praise, of victory of light against darkness, of hope against despair.
Aaron White is on the leadership team of 24-7 Prayer Canada and lives in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Go to the Facebook page for regular updates.
He suggests checking out these local resources for refugees:
- Kinbrace Refugee Housing and Support (Vancouver)
- Journey Home Community (Burnaby)
- New Hope Community Services Society (Surrey)
- Inasmuch (Abbotsford)
- Mosaic (Vancouver)
- IAFR Canada