I had a conversation with a Syrian refugee last week.
This was my first opportunity to actually speak with someone who had fled their war-torn country and eventually made their way to Canada. He and his wife and children have been in Canada for just six months.
In the early part of our conversation, he shared how much he enjoyed being in Canada and how safe he and his family felt. After surviving bombings, escaping to another country, and then living in a refugee camp with thousands of others, he was very glad to be settled in Canada and was looking forward to his first Christmas here.
As our conversation continued he began to share other parts of his story that were very honest – brutally honest. While he is now in Canada, he told me about family members who had not escaped; some who were still in Syria and others who had been horrifically murdered. He spoke about atrocities he saw committed against other Syrians, which he will likely never forget.
Mixed with his joy was a deep sadness—a pain that recognized that while he and his family are safe, others were not as fortunate.
As I reflected on his story, I could not help but think about the first Christmas when Jesus entered into our world. The angels declared to the shepherds, "I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.” No truer words could have been spoken. After all, there was a reason to be joyful; the Saviour of the world had been born.
On the other hand, we need to be brutally honest and acknowledge that for the families of other baby boys born in the surrounding area at that time, families whose boys who were murdered by Herod, their joy was replaced with deep mourning and sadness. Jesus and his family were given divine direction in a dream to avoid a similar fate by quickly escaping to Egypt. I wonder if Jesus ever thought about all of those other boys who were murdered just because he was born?
While I gather together with loved ones this year to celebrate Christmas and rejoice in the birth of Jesus, I want to do so with a genuine honesty that reflects the present reality that millions of others experience. I want to be present in the moments of deep gratitude and joy when I consider the amazing plan God had to rescue a broken world.
I will sing "Joy to the World” because I know it is true. But I will also be diligent in fighting through the dominant consumer attitude that often accompanies Christmas; the attitude that wants us to believe that all is "calm and bright”.
I want to be mindful and lament the fact that for some, this Christmas will have no joy; for children in need of rescue from slavery, refugees awaiting their immigration papers or those struggling in poverty.
From what I read of Jesus’ birth, I believe it is not only possible to find both joy and lament in his advent, but a necessary part of what it means to truly be a part of a global community.
May your Christmas be filled with an honest joy, because it is in this space that we can truly appreciate the birth of the Saviour of the world.
Join us in waiting and praying this Advent season. The prayer of Waiting and Longing is a great resource created by theologian Walter Brueggemann from his book "Prayers for a Privileged People". We've provided you with a free pdf copy to guide you in your times of prayer and reflection.
Free download here: