As we prepare for the Christmas season many of us will be setting out our nativity sets. They remind us and others about the coming of Jesus, the truest and greatest gift of Christmas! When placing the figures upon the mantle or table, some of us place the wise men just a little further from the manger to indicate that these Magi came to see the Christ a while after the shepherds.
Matthew 2 records how the wise men arrived in Jerusalem asking “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” and of their meeting with King Herod when he told them: “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!” We read of how they were led by the star, when they found Jesus and of the three gifts they gave. Their worship of the Christ child was full of joy yet the wise men had to sneak out of town after they were warned by God not to tell Herod were Jesus was. An angel warned Joseph to take Mary and their baby and flee to Egypt for safety from Herod’s wrath.
But we often choose not to think about the rest of what Matthew 2 tells us: Herod sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. How horrible! Babies grabbed from their mother’s arms and slaughtered. It’s too unpleasant. It’s too disgusting. We’d rather laugh and smile than cry at Christmas. We’d rather picture a silent night rather than a night of screams.
This Christmas, as you spend time with family and friends, exchange gifts, eat cookies, and sing carols, please be sure to remember the suffering of your Nigerian brothers and sisters who are the victims of persecution. We know of the kidnapping of the school-aged girls who have not yet been returned safely to their families, and as horrible as that is, there is so much more. EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria has been repeatedly and viciously attacked. 70 out of the 156 local church councils and 21 local church branches have been burnt down completely. Over 2,287 houses belonging to members have been burnt down causing them to lose everything. Over 3,038 members have been killed and 8 pastors also. 180 members have been kidnapped. These Christians are running for their lives. Literally. Over 96,000 Nigerian Brethren are displaced, homeless, hungry and grieving. We don’t want to think about it but we must. Their pain and persecution is part of the reality of Christmas this year.
Please keep these suffering saints in your prayers. Sacrifice some time during this busy season to pray for them. (District Minister, Ron Beachley, challenges us to pray, each day, at 8am, Noon, 4pm and 8pm. Just take a minute or two.) Sacrifice in some way this Christmas so that you can help with an extra monetary gift. (We decided to not give our usual family picture card this year and to use the money instead for Nigeria.) Our denomination has committed $1.5 million to help with providing food and shelter and challenges Church of the Brethren members around the world to give so that another $500,000 can be sent. We all need to do our part. Give through our Christmas offering here at the church or send your help directly to Emergency Disaster Fund/Nigeria at Church of the Brethren, 1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin IL 60120 or give online at www.brethren.org/nigeria.
Let’s not forget the whole story of Christmas past and present! Let’s celebrate our Savior by helping to save others. “. . . when you did it for one of the least of these . . . you were doing it for me . . . when you refused to help . . . you were refusing to help me.” (Matthew 25:40,45) Pastor Ruby