When I started following Jesus, I wrestled with whether I should join Christians in celebrating Christmas. I was pretty certain that the historical evidence showed Jesus was not born at Christmas time, and that December 25th was originally a day of pagan celebration, the Roman Saturnalia. My Latin teacher had taught me all this in 9th grade. But ultimately, my friend David's argument won me over: "The date really does not matter. We're celebrating the birth of Jesus, and we can do that on any day. It happens to be December 25th."
"The birth of Jesus." Now there's a mind-blowing thought. If you've followed my ministry, you'll know I have never gotten over this. That God would lay aside His majesty and enter into His creation is inestimably overwhelming to anyone who has not grown habituated to it. He lowers Himself when He deserves to be the Highest! He puts Himself last, dying so that none of us will die, paradoxically making Him First and most humble of all. God cares about His children more than His status. He is willing to leave His heavenly home to enter into our suffering. He is willing to be sacrificed when He could be comfortably worshiped, no less than He deserves.
As I consider who the Lord is and what He has done, the events in Syria shape the contours of my reflections. Rebels have recently pillaged, tortured, and killed a city of civilian Christians; the second worst massacre of Christians during this war, involving dead children, human shields, and mass graves. My heart was immediately burdened by hearing the news, but I could remain silent no longer when I read these words, spoken by an Archbishop in Syria, found at NationalReview.com:
We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?This Christmas Eve, while we are enjoying the season in our homes, virtually no one is entering into the suffering of our brothers and sisters. Why do we choose to remain comfortable, not sacrificing for our fellow Christians? Is it that we care about our status more than our family? Are we not at this very moment celebrating the very things about Jesus that we are not emulating: self-sacrifice, undue suffering, self-denying love? How can we claim to be His followers if we do not follow Him?
Some might say, "Nabeel, this is certainly an atrocity, but it's one of many in a war that is not ours." You may be right, but why is it that I did not hear about this event until weeks after it happened, when BBC is loudly reporting the death of a young Palestinian girl at the hands of Israel the very day it happened? (BBC Breaking News) Both atrocities in larger contexts, to be sure, but one seems to be unduly silenced by the media.
Some of you will undoubtedly be saying, "But Nabeel, what can we do from here?" Honestly, I don't know. I feel as helpless and frustrated as you do. I am using what little platform I have to say something and inform others, hoping to start a discussion that might be a small part of a lasting change. I speak for myself when I say that I cannot, in good conscience, celebrate Jesus this Christmas Eve while ignoring what He has done and what He commands us to do.
At the very least, let us pray fervently and raise our voices. Pray for respite to our Christian brothers and for a deep-seated calm in the Muslim world. May "peace on earth and goodwill towards men" be cliche no longer on the lips of believers who are, through divine happenstance, comfortable this Christmas Eve. Myself included.