“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13-14)
For Mary and Joseph, the joy of Jesus’s birth is jarred by the harsh reality of Herod’s search with the power of an occupying government willing to use genocidal force to end the life of the innocent. It is unsettling to hear the echo of weeping and great mourning from a Bethlehem torn asunder by the murder of children.
Advent is a call to find comfort in the miraculous arrival of the Savior, but it is also an invitation to prayerfully journey with the many who will live this Christmas in the long shadow of war and occupation.
This is the disquieting reality for Ukraine, a country I visited twice this year. Millions have been uprooted as entire cities are decimated by an unjust invasion. In the already occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, churches that have experienced brutal persecution are sheltering those targeted by the occupying forces.
In cities such as Mariupol, stories of torture and resistance are shared among whispered prayers for those who remain missing. Around the world, Ukrainian women and children forced to flee as refugees will wish for peace for their fathers, husbands, and brothers who remain behind as cold winter settles into a weary country.
These are painful realities yet not unfamiliar to Immanuel, the Lord who journeys with us in the midst of violent pain.
Even during this particular horror, Ukrainian Baptist churches (the largest Protestant group in the mostly Orthodox nation) recorded 20,000 first-time visitors to their churches this year, celebrated 2,300 salvations, and commissioned 40 new pastors. The broader Baptist family across this region has helped 1 million people displaced by the war, and even now many are hosting families in their homes and sacrificially giving their time and money to help.
There are no easy answers, but there are steps forward. This Advent, would you allow yourself to meditate on the presence of Christ in the midst of war and unjust occupations? Like Joseph, let us also arise with urgency to act.
Would you pray for peace on earth and goodwill for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, and in all places marred by war? They are not abandoned; the Lord is with them. Yes, Lord, be with them!
And on this day as you allow yourself to be unsettled once again, will you respond to what the Lord lays on your heart with kingdom courage?
Rev. Elijah M. Brown, Ph.D., is the general secretary & CEO of Baptist World Alliance.