December 24th, 2022
In the inestimable words of British glam-rock veterans Slade: ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas!’
The baubles are hung. The tree is lit. The presents are wrapped. The greetings cards are written. The cake is decorated. The sprouts are prepared. The oven is warming up. The children have excitedly scribbled their extensive wish lists for long-suffering Father Christmas, and the carrot/cookie and glass of something fortifying is poised at the bottom of whatever most closely approximates as a chimney. There is a sense of anticipation. Of expectation. Of something about to happen.
While many of our Western Christmas traditions have very little to do with that first Christmas, that sense of journeying towards an important moment has stood the test of time. As Joseph and heavily-pregnant Mary made their arduous way to his family’s home town, something truly remarkable was about to occur. God arriving in human form: Immanuel.
We pray that this Christmas, you would experience a personal encounter with God, in much the same way as the ostracised shepherds of old, eking out their living in those starlit Middle Eastern fields. Our hope is that, amongst the adornments and celebrations – whatever form they may take – you too are able to spend quality time with Jesus.
‘Everybody’s having fun.’ Sorry, Slade, but nope.
Laying a newborn baby down to slumber in an animal feeding trough was unlikely to be Mary’s first preference, despite the cute nativity plays we’re so familiar with. And this Christmas, despite the glitzy advertisements that have been running on our TV screens since approximately August, many people will be in dire straits. (Sorry to mix rock band references.) The cost-of-living crisis, disruption to public services and rapidly increasing energy prices – exacerbated by conflict in several places worldwide – are having a detrimental effect on family finances in the UK and beyond. For many, this will not be an ideal ‘M&S’ Christmas, but a real challenge. To eat or to heat? It’s stark. Deeply concerning. Even frightening.
Please know that if you are in such a situation this Christmas, you need not suffer alone. There is help available.
In many of the countries where International Needs works, this phenomenon is not new. Having joined the staff team just this month, I am rapidly learning about the diverse, innovative ways in which poverty and injustices are being addressed by individuals and teams passionate about serving their community. We are in it for the long haul. ‘The poor you will always have with you,’ said Jesus, in a verse (Matthew 26:11) not commonly preached at Christmastime.
Having worked in Ukraine this summer, I frequently call to mind some of the men and women who I encountered. The church leader whose congregation grew tenfold at the onset of hostilities, with all the increased pastoral responsibilities that come with that. The music shop owner in Kyiv whose successful instrument business became untenable overnight. The occupant of an apartment block hit by Russian missiles, too afraid to return to his own bed and now living under a nearby tree. The history student who had to pause his studies in international conflict because the subject suddenly became startlingly personal. The taxi driver fearful of driving past every military checkpoint, afraid he might be conscripted into the army. The stalwart babushka still selling flowers on the street corner because that’s all she’s ever known. It’s now cold, dark and critical infrastructure is failing. But here, too, Christmas will be marked in a poignant, meaningful way.
Earlier in December, International Needs UK celebrated Christmas – not with Slade but the doyen of contemporary Christian music, Graham Kendrick. (And a huge thank you goes out to Graham, his band and those of you who supported the event, which raised a staggering £7,500!) In his rousing modern-day carol ‘Tonight’, Graham reminds us of the back-to-front-ness of it all. The King of Kings being born into ignominy, and those humble shepherds – rather than the influencers of the day – given the front-row seats.
And so to Bethlehem
To find it all was true
Despised and worthless shepherds
We were the first to know!
Jesus shakes things up. Spiritually, politically, socially, economically and practically. This Christmas, whether it is one of fairy lights or food insecurity (or both), I wonder: are we ready to be shaken? What will the year ahead look like if we allow God to shape us and direct us?
Looking forward to journeying into 2023 with you, full of anticipation for what God will lead us into next. Thank you for choosing us and partnering with us.
Head of Communications
International Needs UK
PS… on the topic of journeying together, if you would like a 2023 International Needs calendar – either for yourself or to share with someone new to IN perhaps, do drop me a line. They include a monthly Bible verse, prayer topic and thought-provoking images of IN’s ministry around the world, with space to add your own engagements. There are about 100 up for grabs, on a first come, first served basis.
Email David at email@example.com for your free International Needs Calendar