The Christian Year – The Christmas Season, the second season of the Christian Year (and also the shortest) begins on Christmas Day, and lasts for just twelve days, ending on the 5th of January. Christmas celebrates God’s coming into the world in human form in the person of Jesus. As John 1.14 puts it, The Word [Jesus] became flesh, and made his dwelling among us. And, as Luke 2.1-21 tells us, Jesus came into the world in the same way that all humans do – as a baby.
There was no formal celebration of Jesus’ birth in the earliest centuries of church history, and it was not until the 300s that Christians created a festival for this purpose. Since no one knew the actual date of Jesus’ birth, the church “Christianized” an already-existing Roman festival celebrating the “re-birth” of the sun after the winter solstice, and made it instead a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
Christmas is the first of the four major festivals of the Christian Year, and it is closely followed by the second, Epiphany, on the 6th of January, which commemorates the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) in Jesus’ early childhood (Matthew 2.1-12). The other two major festivals are Easter and Pentecost. The symbolic color for both Christmas and Epiphany is white, signifying joy and celebration.
Xmas – The abbreviation “Xmas” for Christmas is not an irreverent one, but is quite legitimate. The “X” is actually the Greek letter “khi”, the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός (Khristos), meaning “Christ”.
Minute for Mission – Advent 4
This week, the world has been watching in horror the suffering of the people in Aleppo. We have held our breath as attempts have been made to broker and maintain a fragile ceasefire long enough for humanitarian organizations to evacuate those who remain in East Aleppo. We have seen on social media the stories of individuals and families who are caught in the cross fire. The human suffering is unspeakable.
What is even more unspeakable is that the story of Aleppo is just the latest chapter in the heart-breaking story of Syria’s civil war which has been going on for more than 5 years. Millions of civilians have found themselves caught in the cross-fire. Most of Syria’s major cities are in ruins. In 2016, the United Nations (UN) identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria. Neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees seeking asylum.
When we see such tragedies unfolding it can be hard to know what we can do. How can we stop a war half a world away? While it is important that we lobby our governments to act in international affairs in ways which build peace in the world and we can continue to pray and work for peace wherever possible, we know that you and I cannot end the war in Syria as much as we might like to. However, one thing we can do is to help some of the people displaced by the war.
Our church in cooperation with other churches and community groups are sponsoring two families of refugees originally from Syria. Both families fled their homes many years before the current round of hostilities. The Bakr family are from Damascus and fled to Turkey four years ago. The Al Hallaq family are from Homs and fled to Lebanon five years ago. Neither can safely return home. We are honoured to help them make a new start here in Canada.
You can help us to support these families in their new beginning by contributing to our Make Room at the Inn Campaign. Donations can be put in your regular offering envelope marked “Refugee Project” or dropped off at the church office. If you would like a beautiful gift card to show someone that you have made a donation in their honour this Christmas, those are available at the church office as well. Thank you for your prayers and your financial support of this important work. Our work does not fix everything that is broken but it does make a tremendous difference for these families.
This time of year it is only natural for our thoughts to turn to the Christmas story. It is a story that many of us are familiar with. We’ve seen it acted out in Christmas pageants and read it in worship on Christmas Eve for many years. What we may be less familiar with is the story that comes after the departure of the wise ones in Matthew’s version of the story. That story goes like this:
“Now after they had left, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod”
In other words, when Jesus was still a small child, his family fled in the night to Egypt as refugees to escape an unjust king who wanted to kill him.
As followers of Jesus, we have a responsibility to care for refugees. After all, Jesus was once a refugee himself, and he taught us that whatever we do for the most vulnerable amongst us, we do for God.
Our church, in partnership with other area churches, is living out our faith by providing a new home for two families from Syria who are making fresh starts here in Portage la Prairie. We will journey with these families throughout their first year in Canada, helping them to find their way around, learn about Canadian culture, make new friends and learn English. You can be part of this important work. If you would like to volunteer to help with driving or with language practice, please talk to Beth Kerr or Auna Marie Brown (at Trinity United Church). If you would like to donate to the project, you can drop off a donation at the church office or put it in your regular offering envelope marked “Refugee Project”. You can also donate by credit card on-line through Trinity United Church’s website. If you would like to make a donation as a Christmas gift, gift cards are available on the table at the south entrance which celebrate how your gift recipient has helped to “make room at the inn this Christmas”.
Imagine arriving in a strange country where people speak a different language, a language which is even written with a different alphabet than the one you know. Imagine all your worldly possessions for a family of 5 are in three suitcases. The home you left behind is in rubble. You know this because former neighbours took a picture of the rubble that now exists where your house once stood. You are excited to embark on this new phase of life and heartened by the warm welcome you have received. You also grieve everything that has been destroyed by the tragedy of war and are worried about family members who have been left behind in Syria and in Turkey. This is the story of the Bakr family who arrived in Portage la Prairie at the beginning of November. They are amazing. They have learned a remarkable amount of English in just one month and have embraced with humour and grace the challenge of navigating a new culture. We as a congregation are privileged to be part of the team welcoming them to Portage la Prairie.
While we do not yet know the details of their story, and every refugee story is different, we expect that the story of the Al Hallaq family which we will be meeting at the airport this Wednesday will also be similar. They are also originally from Syria and are coming to us from Lebanon where they have taken refuge. We look forward to giving them the gift of a safe home and a warm welcome to this cold country this Christmas. We anticipate new joys and challenges as we form relationships with this second family as well.
In this season of excess where we are often encouraged to want more and more and more, journeying with these families helps us to remember the things that matter most – safe shelter, clean water, adequate food, basic clothing (including warm stuff here in Canada) and a cozy bed where you don’t have to worry about bombs falling in the night. If you or someone on your Christmas gift list has all the “things” they need, you might want to consider making a donation to the refugee project as a Christmas gift. We have some beautiful gift cards that you can share with the gift recipient to let them know that they have helped to “Make Room at the Inn” this Christmas. Gift cards are available through the church office.
We offer our prayers for peace in the world this day in solidarity with all those who are displaced by war and we celebrate how bridges of care can be built between people from different cultures, different religions and different languages as a beacon of hope in our hurting world.