In Baghdad, the blackened cars outside churches and abandoned houses where people once worshiped point to an even greater emptiness in Iraq. Since the war, Christians have faced great persecution and hardship, all signaling a new era in a country that was once the cradle of their faith. While it may be home to the ancient cities of Ninevah and Babylon, Ur and the Garden of Eden, families of God are fleeing Iraq--afraid for their lives and the daily threat of terrorism. Frightened by a future where they would be hunted or outcast, thousands of Christians have fled for safe havens.

In the past few years, the fragile peace between the country's Christians and Muslims has been shattered. God-fearing Iraqis have watched helplessly as their brothers and sisters in Christ fall victim to bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and intimidation. In the face of great suffering, the shrinking population still searches for asylum. By record numbers, nearly half of what was once considered the world's oldest Christian body has disappeared. As one religious leader said, "The situation that is in the country will not allow us to practice our services freely. It is not safe to go [out] from home. We are meeting every Sabbath, but it is very difficult. We expect an explosion at any time during the day." Like every Iraqi, he prays for a better tomorrow. "We hope that things will change," he said. "But no one knows except God."

Two thousand years ago, the fate of the world hung by a similar thread. A virgin birth. The innocent manger. A promise of salvation. All were endangered by a Middle Eastern tyrant who slaughtered millions in hopes of killing the rightful King, Jesus Christ.

'...After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we have observed his star and have come to pay him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was frightened... Then Herod secretly called for the wise men... and sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage... When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising... When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. They saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage... And having been warned by a dream... they left for their country by another road... Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Get up and take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt... for Herod is about to search for the child and destroy him.' (Matthew 2:2-3, 9-13)

Just as the Savior is born every year within the hearts and minds of His people, so too are the modern Herods, armed with angry troops and deadly weapons. But I am grateful for this side of the nativity story, because we learn that in the face of evil and corruption, the Messiah still finds His way.

Though suicide bombers threaten and war tears many apart, the faithful have clung to the Light in a world that seeks to destroy it. While the course is difficult, and fear and darkness often cover our path, history tells us that somewhere behind these horrors are the stirrings of peace and goodwill. On the other side of this manger is the Kingdom of Heaven. We celebrate with the poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote of the Magi, We returned to our places / But no longer at ease here / in the old dispensation / with an alien people clutching their gods / I should be glad of another death. This season, may the world be grateful "of another death" that brings new life in Christ.

From everyone at FRC, Merry Christmas and best wishes for a restful New Year!