Scott Jones – Gilbert Campus Pastor
What would you do if the leader of your country was so paranoid and power hungry that he ordered the execution of anyone who threatened his position? What would you do if you were forced out of your home, out of your land and away from your family? What would you do if you had to leave everything behind just so you could survive? These are the questions I asked a group of refugees recently. And they were questions that were all too familiar. These were not hypothetical situations like they are for most who are reading this. It was a part of their story. But there was something they didn’t know about those questions. What they didn’t know is that those questions were a part of the Christmas story. Because when Jesus was born, the leader of his country was so paranoid of losing power that he murdered every boy 2 years old and under. And Jesus was forced out of his home, out of his country and away from his people. Jesus himself was a refugee. And I had the privilege of sharing that story with refugees in the room.
The setting was the Central Christian Church International Welcoming Team Christmas Party. The International Welcoming Team is a part of Central’s Global Outreach that serves international refugees by helping them to settle into a new home, building friendships, teaching them English an introducing them to the teachings of Jesus. It is a powerful way to reach out to the nations that are coming to our doorstep.
The gathering was a microcosm of heaven. There were families from Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, India, Ethiopia and more. As we ate dinner together, played games and took pictures I realized that I had never been in one place with so many people from so many different cultures. There was so much diversity and yet there were so many things we had in common. We all smiled. We all laughed. We all liked to hold babies. We all got competitive. And we all liked the turkey and dressing!
When it came time for the Christmas Story I was a little nervous. Not just because the room was filled with those who were not of the Christian faith but also because there were about 20 kids who I wasn’t sure could sit quietly for 10 minutes. But something intrigued and quieted everyone in the room. And it wasn’t my delivery or personality. It was the compelling nature of the Christmas Story. Because they saw that it’s a story about a God who loves the nations – a God who came DOWN to people who could not make their way UP to him.
As these refugees listened to a story full of prophecy, history, a great cast of characters and the greatest themes ever introduced to human beings – love, peace, joy and hope – it wasn’t hard to stay tuned in.
They saw at heart of the story the one called Jesus, the one Muslims calls Isa. They saw that the Christmas story is his story because it’s about his birth, his life, his love. But they learned that it was their story too. Because the love of Jesus, the life of Jesus is always connected to the people he loves, died for and lives for.
We looked the story from eternity past, the creation of mankind, the prophecies about his birth and the baby in the manger. And these are clearly central elements in the unfolding story of God. But it was the angel’s announcement recorded in Luke 2 that grabbed everyone’s attention.
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
To see Jesus as a Savior, not just for the Jews or Americans, but for every person of every nation was something I sensed was a compelling idea for this diverse group from many different nations. And that’s a part of the Christmas story that we can’t afford to miss. Jesus and his birth, Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi and any other character in the story do not belong to America. Jesus and the story that he stars in is for the world. This was never clearer to me than that night as I looked in the faces of the nations.
It was refreshing to be able to include in the Christmas story Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom of God – that true happiness isn’t found in the American Dream but in a life of sacrifice, humility and service. And Jesus had a vision that one day this Kingdom life would be a reality for all who would follow him.
I’m sure most of you have been to Disneyland or Disney World. There’s a famous ride there called, “It’s a Small World.” You ever been on that? Anybody ever been driven crazy by that song? Where do you think that idea came from – of a world gathered together, people of every race, gender, status, and nationality? Who would come up with an idea like that? It wasn’t Walt Disney. He borrowed it from Jesus. Because Jesus’ birth and life gave birth to this new community of forgiven people who would one day occupy the new heaven and earth – people, Revelation 5 says are from “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
That’s the Christmas story! But there’s more to the story. Most of you know it. But the refugees in the room that night didn’t and don’t. But in order to truly find our place in the story of God, we have to invite others into it. You can go to those in another country or you can go to those who’ve already come to ours. Click here to learn more about the Central International Welcoming Team or other ways to serve people from other countries right here in the Valley.
It’s a small world. And God is sending us into it. Let’s Go!