We’re told in Chapter 2 of Luke that shepherds living near Bethlehem were visited by an angel of God, who brought them ‘good news that will cause great joy for all people’: the announcement of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, saviour of the world.
The world could certainly use news of great joy; to human eyes, these are dark times. In the face of the Paris attacks, of being in Israel and realising the threat of terrorism they face daily, of the deep divides running like fault lines across the world and the collective loss and suffering of millions, I’ve been asking myself: what can a very ordinary human being do?
What can I do?
I’ve seen, and myself have had, two different responses. The first is a kind of carelessness: ‘it’s too big for me, it doesn’t really affect me, I can’t do much anyway.’ And so the festive season rolls on, with its parties, merriment, celebrations and gifts, because I have the luxury of feigning ignorance. The second is to let fear and suspicion clog my heart; to hunker down to protect what’s mine and what’s precious to me, to close the doors of my home and my heart, to keep out what might hurt or threaten my way of life and my comforts.
At Yad Vashem, the Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem, I felt a sense of dread when I saw a section showing news reports and the responses of countries to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. There was too much in it which echoed what I am seeing now and in particular what I have seen in my own home country of Australia for some years. I recognise that the circumstances are not identical, that there are many complex factors at play (and that we need to continue praying for our leaders for much wisdom in how to respond), but it compelled me to ask myself: what is my response to all of this? More importantly, what is God’s?
God had a lot to say to Israel about the ‘alien’ and ‘foreigner’, the orphans and widows in the Old Testament. The laws He gave them in Exodus 22 required them not to ‘mistreat or oppress a foreigner’, not to take advantage of the widow or orphan, and when lending to the needy, to charge no interest and not treat it as a business deal. He says He hears their cry because He is compassionate.
The sin of Sodom was that they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, and did not help the poor and needy. One translation says they had ‘pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease.’ (Ezekiel 16:49)
Paul exhorts us to show hospitality to strangers in Hebrews 13:2, and in James 2 clearly links faith and works with helping those in need.
The verse that has spoken loudest to me is Micah 6:8: ‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ The simplicity and completeness of those words are profound. My actions should be just and my heart full of mercy, and I need to walk humbly and close to Jesus so I can hear Him, know His heart, and walk in His footsteps.
What does that look like in practical terms?
This is what’s beautiful about our faith. It’s deeply personal between me and Jesus, and you and Jesus. What He calls you to is different and unique to the call of any other person on earth. What I can say is, the more I’ve opened my heart to wrestle with these things and bring them to Him, the more He is showing me how to give Him my little fish and loaves and to trust in His sovereignty and plan for humanity. There is no room for passivity in this faith walk; we are called to go!
When you see all the calls to action and the wonderful opportunities to serve this Christmas at Everyday London and elsewhere, don’t be burdened with guilt, stress, and worry. You should rightly enjoy and celebrate the news of great joy; you should also rightly ask Him how He wants you to share that with others this Christmas, and give wholeheartedly!