I have seen a number of nativity scenes over the last few weeks, but the most beautiful and moving was in a Sunday newspaper which featured a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq. The nativity scene was constructed in a tent – surrounded by the tents in which displaced Iraqis are living today. As they look upon the birth of Jesus, they would, no doubt, be remembering that the holy family was displaced at the birth of Jesus, unable to find a room anywhere. They would also be remembering that soon after Jesus was born, Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees, fleeing from Herod and his bloodthirsty soldiers who were seeking to kill Jesus: the Iraqis, who have had to flee the bloodthirsty forces of ISIS, would identify with the plight of the holy family.
So why would today’s refugees in Iraq, forced to leave their homes with so few possessions, living in drafty tents and facing the prospect of plummeting temperatures, build a nativity scene? Canon Andrew White, Vicar of Baghdad, helps us understand. He tells of some visitors coming to discover what it was like for Christians in Iraq. The visitors were surprised by the happiness and vitality they found among the Christians: they asked how they could be so happy when surrounded by suicide bombers, rockets and violence. One young person answered, ‘You see when you have lost everything, Jesus is all you have left.’
Christmas is an opportunity for celebrating and thanksgiving, no matter where we are and no matter what we have. We celebrate the armour-piercing hope that Jesus Christ can bring both in the good times and also in the dark times. Sometimes we can only see the hope that comes from God when nothing else is left. May this Christmas’s celebrations help us to see it clearly, no matter where we are and no matter what we have. And let’s remember all those displaced from their homes this Christmas, especially those living in tents and facing plummeting temperatures in Iraq.
Image 2: Refugee tents at Arbat Transit Camp for Syrian Refugees in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan taken by C. McCauley