A cosy Christmas?
Where is the hope? In us. In you.
by Matt Hyam, World Vision UK Church Specialist
They were a teenage couple with a new-born baby. They were fleeing for their lives - specifically the life of their son. Like many refugees, they were escaping an unjust regime and a corrupt ruler who was seeking to protect his own status, on this occasion, by killing thousands of babies. His fear was that one of these babies would supplant him and his heirs. He was right.
This baby was being carried by his teenage parents to seek asylum in a strange country. This baby, you see, was the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords - but he was too busy doing all the things that babies do – crying, feeding, being cuddled - to know that yet.
The baby was Jesus, who was born in a cattle shed and spent the first few hours of his life sleeping in a food trough, in real danger of being trampled by an ox or a donkey. This baby, who could not even focus his eyes on anything further away than his mother’s face as she fed him, was the hope of humanity - wrapped up in a tiny, uncoordinated body, because this baby was God himself.
Hope for those on the margins
This displaced baby would grow up to take on the powers of darkness, to address injustice, to offer hope for those on the margins, for those who others had turned their backs on. He would challenge the authorities and those who claimed to love God but oppress others. He would challenge the very authority structures of the world, claiming that he ruled a Kingdom that represented justice and love; where those who are on the underside would have the most gain; where those who have no hope in this world and its structures would be the ones most full of joy under his reign.
This tiny baby would grow up to gather the broken around him, proclaiming that he had good news for those on the lowest rung of the ladder. The unloved, the fearful, the oppressed, the sick, the displaced, the lonely, the disabled, the outcasts: they all gathered around him.
This baby started his life as a refugee. And as we look around our world today, it certainly breaks his heart that 100 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced (including over 35 million children). In the year since last Christmas, we have seen crisis after crisis, and, frankly, it’s overwhelming.
In Afghanistan, over 90% cannot afford to eat. Parents have been doing everything they can to ensure their family have enough food to live on this past year but they face impossible choices. How can they save the lives of their children? Some have decided to sell a kidney; others are facing the heartbreaking decision of whether to arrange a child marriage or agree to child labour. UNICEF estimates that 3.2 million Afghan children will suffer from acute malnutrition this year. Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
Where is the Christmas hope?
In Ukraine, millions have fled their homes. Children, as in every crisis, bear the brunt of the suffering. One mother talked about how her little girls could identify each missile from the sound of the explosion. Little girls should not be able to do that. Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
Last Christmas, Afghanistan was the worst crisis in the world. It is not anymore, and not because things have improved. Millions of people in many other countries are joining Afghanistan in their desperation for food. In fact, there are 50 million people affected by the Global Hunger Crisis. In East Africa there is a drought, the like of which has not been seen for decades – if ever. Covid has driven food prices to an all-time high, climate change has meant a fifth rainy season without rains, and the conflict in Ukraine has driven up food, fertiliser, and fuel prices across the world. Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
Conflict in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Syria, and South Sudan continue to mean seemingly unending suffering and displacement for the people of those nations, whose children, once again, bear the brunt. Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
At home, asylum seekers and refugees from these conflicts, having come to the UK in hope, instead face hardship, aggression, and fear. On top of this, the cost-of-living crisis has hit all of us and means that even working people are dependent on foodbanks. For virtually everyone, general life has become far more difficult. Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
Jesus said that when we help the least of these, we are helping him. He said that when we feed the hungry, we are feeding him. He said that when we embrace the stranger, we are embracing him.
Hope of a new world
You see, the hope of Christmas is not a warm, fuzzy, cosy hope. It is a hope of a new world where there will no longer be hatred, oppression or fear. It is a hope of a Kingdom where the values of this age are overturned, and all will be fair.
That is why World Vision does what it does. Our prayer is, and always was, that God would break our hearts with what breaks his heart. It is because of this hope of the Kingdom that we work among the most vulnerable children in the world: in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, in East Africa, in the DRC, in Syria…wherever we can be.
So, although it often seems hopeless, we do what we do to bring hope.
I was in Uganda this Autumn and spoke to parents in communities that had been ravaged by war. All of these people had been raised in refugee camps, and many had been born in them, but here they were, working with World Vision and seeing their communities transformed and their own children as the hope for a sustainable future.
A hope dance
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Even for those in the direst circumstances, there is hope. And we are desperately working to be part of bringing that hope.
Where is the hope of this Kingdom?
In that baby. In us. In you. Let us be part of delivering that hope this Christmas.
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