An Appeal to the Prince of Peace
An American Christmas involves for Christians much of what it involves for non-Christians. We buy gifts, go to parties, sing carols, set up trees, dress in red and green, take a bit of time off work, and spend time with family members we might not see the rest of the year. Christmas in America feels familiar for Christ-followers and unbelievers alike.
Christians in America do experience some particularly Christian accents in the season. Worship includes the lighting of Advent candles. A worship service is scheduled for Christmas Eve. The scriptures read in worship during the month of December are intentionally arranged so that they set the theological and liturgical expectation of the coming of the Savior and Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Included in those readings is Psalm 122:8b-9. “I will say, ‘peace be with you.’ Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.” Also, Psalm 146:8-9 is one of the Advent passages read in churches. “The Lord raises up those who are oppressed; … the Lord protects foreigners.” American Christians are not oppressed. For the most part, even with the secularization of society, American Christians are not “foreigners.” They feel at home living out their Christian Christmas in America.
Does it make any difference for believers in Syria that they are Christian and it is Christmas? The Washington Post reports that Christians are vulnerable to extremist splinter rebel groups.[i] While both the Syrian government and the Syrian Opposition Coalition pledge equality for minority groups, some Jihadists seek to eradicate Christianity from Syria. The followers of Jesus in that war-torn country have little to no power to resist and are in danger of displacement or annihilation.
How do those Christians hear the word of God when it says, “the Lord raises up, the Lord protects?” Has God overlooked them? Is their suffering an opportunity to witness to the faithfulness of God? It is easy to type that sitting in a comfortable office in Chapel Hill, NC.
A recent incident, illustrates the peril of being a Christ follower in the middle of the civil war in this Muslim nation. On December 2, rebels in the Islamist Nusra Front took over the town of Maaloula including the Greek Orthodox Monastery. Now several nuns are being held as hostages.[ii] The Christianity practiced by these women is in radically different form than the casual appearing American evangelicalism. But, Syrian nuns and American evangelicals worship the same Jesus. They are bonded together in Christ.
This Christmas, the Americans will enjoy the soft warmth of big meals, family gathered, and children laughing. The Syrian sisters will pray to survive. If they do, what then? What future is there for the Christian faith in Syria? For that matter, what future is there for any Syrian in that nation that is overrun by violence and death?
The residents of the Heavenly throne room exalt Jesus for redeeming people from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9). Syria is included in the gathering of the redeemed. There are Christ-followers there, right now, and the Christmas ahead of them is not like the one American Christians will enjoy. We in America are right to enjoy the blessings we have. We are right to celebrate the coming of Jesus and the life we have in his name.
Our celebration, though, is complicated. As we smile and sing, we also carry the burdens of pain of the people around us and of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. We must take a moment away from our parties and festive worship times, and we must go forcefully to God in prayer. We must call God to account. We must read the Psalms proclaiming what God will do for the downtrodden and we must demand that God do this for Syrian Christians.
In prayer, we plead with God. We remind God that God has made promises. We bring up the issue that Jesus has died for these Syrians and they are God’s children. We pray like it matters, like it is an issue of life or death. Because it is. And we pray as if God will do something with our prayers. He will. Christians everywhere look to Isaiah 9:6. We call our Lord the “Prince of Peace.” Between now and Christmas day, may each Christian enjoying a comfortable life in American go in prayers of desperation to our Prince of Peace on behalf of our Syrian brothers and sisters. May this Christmas be a time when God does unexpected and miraculous things in a part of the world that is seemingly lost to chaos. God can. Pray that salvation will come.