Amidst the hustle and bustle, the trappings and wrapping of gifts, it will be good to pause and reflect on the reason for the Christmas season. Let us remember what really happened on that “silent and holy night” as well as that first Christmas morn. The trappings were a stable and manger in Bethlehem, the wrappings were swaddling clothes and the gift – Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh.
The night was far from “silent” or “holy” as Herod in his search for the Christ-child ordered the slaughter of the innocent. (Matthew 2:16) It was this act of genocide that caused Mary, Joseph and the child to flee and become refugees in Egypt.
As we recall the Christmas story it reminds us to practise true hospitality, to welcome strangers and exiles. The call to welcome the stranger is not optional or conditional but rather a Biblical imperative. “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:1-3). When we welcome strangers, opening our hearts and our doors we will often be transformed in the process.
This year has seen millions of people throughout the world forcefully displaced because of war, human rights violations, political and religious persecution, poverty or environmental destruction. In many instances the experience of most asylum seekers/refugees is one of abuse, harassment, exploitation and marginalization which amount to a new form of slavery.
The true Christmas story is about hospitality, humility, service and hope born out of despair. If we don’t have Christmas in our hearts we will never find it in “wrappings or trappings” no matter how beautiful and valuable the gifts. The real gift is that; “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…….A child is born to us, a son is given to us and he will be our ruler. He will be called, “Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6)
I pray that we will all make a commitment to biblical holiness, justice and peace by being the difference that we want to see in the world.
May the joy of the angels, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Mary and Joseph, and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas and in the days to come.
Ivan M Abrahams
General Secretary of the World Methodist Council