Eve of Nativity & Insurrectionists

Coptic church – Evidence of Egypt’s large Coptic Christian population

Today is the eve of the celebration of nativity for many in the East. While the West celebrates December 25th, the East continues its Advent waiting, finally coming together in celebration on the 7th of January. Even as I write this, people in Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, and many other places are at midnight liturgies celebrating the birth of Christ.

We unapologetically celebrate both. For something as lifechanging and miraculous as the Incarnation, God become man, it somehow doesn’t feel like too much. Instead, it feels like we are incredibly fortunate to have these rich traditions to live by.

In our first Christmas Eve, I lamented a pardon that felt particularly unjust, lamented that hard fought justice was overturned. This second Christmas eve or Eve of the Nativity I lament something else. I lament a mob storming the U.S. Capital. Scaling walls, knocking over barriers, vandalizing offices, proudly taking pictures to post on social media. I lament this country’s delusional idea that it shines as a beacon of light in the world.

But if that is not enough, my deepest cry is over Christian leaders applauding this and urging people on. A well known Christian leader who hosts a radio show tweeted a picture of the 21 Coptic men, martyred by ISIS for their faith. The audacity of posting this picture with the caption “What price are you willing to pay for what you believe in?” feels like an assault on all things good, on all things holy. Indeed, it feels like an assault on the faith I hold so close and so dear.

Those of us who did not grow up in this country have often been asked in our adopted countries about the United States. They are envious of many things, among them the fact that we elect leaders and have a peaceful transfer of power. This is unthinkable to many in the world. Elections result in military coups, in forced ousting of leaders, in violence and unrest. Until this time I could be proud of this in our country.

That changed today. Today I’ve read the news with a gasp and cry of anger. The anger has since turned to deep sadness.

And yet… it is the Eve of Nativity. The Eve of remembering an occupation, Roman rule, unrest, and marginalization of a people. The Eve of remembering a baby “born to set thy people free.” The Eve of Nativity, where I look back on the waiting and know it has come to an end.

And as I remember, I’m reminded again that this is my only hope. My hope is not in government. My hope is not in peaceful transfer of power. My hope is not in people “doing the right thing.” My hope is not in the next administration. This does not mean that I will not call out wrong. This does not mean that I will not seek the welfare of the city where I live. This does not mean I will not fight evil, confronting it with discernment and courage.

What it means is that my hope will not shattered when those Christians with influence and a lot of power seem to have lost their way. It means that my hope is in somehting so much greater, wiser, and stronger.

My hope is in the one whose name is called “Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Right now it is the only thing I have, and it is enough.


This poem was written after the Coptic Christians were martyred. I post it here, as a reminder of that which is good and true and holy.

Two rows of men walked the shore of the sea,
On a day when the world’s tears would run free,
One a row of assassins, who thought they did right,
The other of innocents, true sons of the light,
One holding knives in hands held high,
The other with hands empty, defenseless and tied,
One row of slits to conceal glaring-dead eyes,
The other with living eyes raised to the skies,
One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath,
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given peace and rest.
A Question…
Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

“Two Rows by the Sea” ©Bible Society of Egypt

On Celebrating Nativity

Icon

Yesterday was Feast of the Nativity – our Orthodox Christmas. As people new to the Orthodox church, we are still learning how to walk between these dates and traditions. Our Protestant families celebrate the 25th of December and we will continue to do this. But along with that is a new celebration on the 7th of January. While December 25th held stockings, gifts, and a special Christmas dinner, January 7th is celebrated completely at the church.  We are celebrating with many others around the world who also celebrate the Nativity on this day.

We began Tuesday evening with a vigil preparing us for the celebration on the 7th. Beautiful troparions reminded us of the importance of this day, along with readings and scripture all pointing to the birth of our Lord.

Wednesday had us up and at the church by nine in the morning for Divine Liturgy. The icon of Mary giving birth, surrounded by angels and midwives was at the front of the church, surrounded by flowers. As I went to the front to venerate the icon I longed to stay longer, standing before that icon, thinking about the birth, remembering and honoring this woman, who all generations will call “blessed.” But the line behind me had grown and it wasn’t the time to stop.

I wish I could describe for you the beauty of these services. The candles casting a golden glow over icons, the hush and expectancy in the air, the choir to the right of the iconostasis, leading us in these words:

How is he contained in a womb, whom nothing can contain? How held in his Mother’s arms, he who is in the Father’s bosom? This is all as he knows, as he wished and as he was well pleased. For being without flesh, willingly he was made flesh; and He Who Is, for our sake has become what he was not; without departing from his own nature he shared in our matter; wishing to fill the world on high, Christ was born in two natures.
-Kathisma from the Orthros of the Nativity of Christ

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels, with shepherds, glorify Him! The wise men journey with the star! Since for our sake the Eternal God is born as a little child (Kontakion).

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshiped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness and to know Thee, the Orient from on high . O Lord, glory to Thee! (Troparion).

I have often missed the Christmases of my youth; Christmas celebrations that contained so much more corporate worship. We always went to church on Christmas, celebrating with the Pakistani Christian minority, singing carols in Urdu at the top of our lungs accompanied by a harmonium. Miss Mall, a Punjabi woman with lungs as large as her personality would begin the songs when we lived in Larkana, others when we lived in Shikarpur. We were dressed in our very best, and “Barra Din Mubarak ho” was on the lips of everyone.

Our new traditions in the Orthodox church remind me of the community gatherings of my past, gathering to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We gather together in our best. We have been fasting together for six weeks, honoring the struggle as a community. We meet with the words “Christ is Born!” and we respond “Glorify Him!”  Who better to gather with than fellow Christians?

Yet in the west, our church celebrations have been replaced by the all important nuclear family. They become individualized, lacking community focus. It is nuclear families that gather, preferring ‘family’ time. But that leads to all kinds of sad. When nuclear families are struggling, when a teenager is not speaking to their parents, when family members decide against going to mom and dads, when divorce divides a family, it leaves people alone on Christmas. Alone to celebrate an event in history that even those who don’t believe acknowledge through the yearly calendar. For so many it has become a day marked by stress, debt, loneliness, and sadness. The individual has replaced the community and we are the sadder for it.

After Divine Liturgy, we eat a feast fit for a king, or at least a bishop. All the cheese, cream, and meat that we have fasted from in the past weeks is on the table in abundance. We fill our plates so high that half way through we laughingly acknowledge that we over estimated our ability through that age-old idiom “My eyes were bigger than my stomach!”

We left the church in the bitter cold of the day, heading into a world that was busy with the day’s work, business as usual. But despite this, the words of the troparion continued to go through my head – “Thy Nativity O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom….” 

This is Nativity. This is the celebration of the birth of our Lord.

We found Baby Jesus

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The night before Thanksgiving we found Baby Jesus. He was in a box of toys that we took down for two small favorites of ours – the kids of our friends Eric and Lara. In a medium-sized box, scrambled among small and medium sized dolls, there was Baby Jesus.

When we took out the felt Nativity set last year we realized that Baby Jesus was missing. We looked everywhere for him without success. The Nativity set had been in our family since Cairo days. It was a perfect set for a family with five children. Made of bright colored felt and yarn, nothing could break. We had enjoyed the set since our third year in Cairo. So when we couldn’t find Baby Jesus we were distressed.

We looked everywhere but Baby Jesus was not to be found.

So when the kids found him on Wednesday evening we were overjoyed. He was safe in his manger, his felt body tucked in among hay made of wheat colored yarn. We separated him and put him on a shelf, away from the other dolls and toys, safe and ready to be placed with his mom, his dad, the shepherds, wisemen, angels, and all the animals.

The world felt right.

But in truth – we had forgotten that we had misplaced him. He was after all, only a little baby, and a felt one at that. And it got me thinking about the times when I misplace Jesus. When I put him where he’s not supposed to be, when I forget where I put him, when I forget all about him. We lost Jesus over a year ago but we haven’t thought much about that. We’ve just kept on with our lives and ended up pleasantly surprised when he popped up the way he did.

This is after all only a felt baby Jesus – not the real Jesus.

But the analogy holds. Sometimes I misplace Jesus. Sometimes I forget him. Even during Christmas – which is technically supposed to be his big day, I misplace him in lights and ornaments, in wrapping paper and expectation.

And sometimes I want to keep him a baby surrounded by wooden, or felt, or clay people and animals because he is safe that way. If I let the baby grow up, he could place demands on me that I’m not sure I want. He could ask me to enter into a life that I’d rather not have. He could change me in ways I’d never dreamed.

But the baby did grow up. He could never stay confined to the cradle, instead he grew up and changed people in ways they’d never dreamed. So now I can’t be content to leave him in the cradle, much less a toy box – he’s too small, too fragile there. I desperately need him to not be confined to the cradle, to love me, to see me as I really am and to change me. I need him to be who he has been all along – Emmanuel, God with us, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, and Everlasting Father.

And all of this because we found Baby Jesus in a box of toys. Go figure.

A Place at the Nativity — a Repost by Robynn

Robynn has been gone all month to India and I miss her. I miss her like I miss Pakistan and Egypt — I have ‘saudade’ for her even though I haven’t seen the woman in person for years! How is this even possible? As anyone who has lived apart from someone they love can attest – it just is.

Last year Robynn wrote this post and as we prepare for Nativity at the Orthodox Church I reread it and wanted to pass it on. Next Sunday The Reluctant Orthodox series will continue and Communicating Across Boundaries will be in its 4th year of blogging. To you who are new, so glad to have you; to you who have read for a while, thank you! With all that is available on the web it is an honor that you would add CAB to your reading list.

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My eighth grade daughter’s Language Arts teacher is an interesting bird. She’s a little scatter brained, a little flighty. Last week she divided the class into pairs. She had each pair discuss time travel. If they could go back in time, to any spot in history, where would they go and why. I’m assuming it was an elaborate writing prompt of sorts.

Adelaide and her friend Taylor went back in time and boarded the Titanic. At just the right moment there they were on deck pointing out the imminent danger, “Look out! An iceberg”! Of course they saved the day, the ship and the 1,517 lives that would have otherwise been drowned. They were the heroes. It was a noble thing to do.

And then Adelaide and Taylor went back further in time. This time they showed up where the new-born baby Jesus was nestled in the manger. They were there with the shepherds, the wise men, the mandatory camel, the cows, the sheep and of course the angel. I had this fleeting moment of mother pride, “Ah…what a sweet idea! To go to the manger, to worship, to be a part of that history-changing, grace-birthing, life-changing moment.

My moment didn’t last Adelaide further explained, “That way whenever a nativity set is displayed we’d be there— a little Adelaide and a little Taylor”!

My imagination laughed out loud. Here’s the tiny little shepherd boy, here’s the Mother Mary and the little Joseph always looking so very serious and tired. Here’s the three stoic wise men each bearing their obligatory oddly shaped gift. There’s the sheep, the cows and that darn camel! Oh… and here’s the little Adelaide and the little Taylor!

When you’re nearly fourteen, you have an amazing capacity to make almost anything all about you. The crèche might be sacred but with just a little creativity you might squeeze into that too!

The irony, I suppose is, that it is all about her. Jesus is thrilled when my Adelaide shows up at the manger. She’s one of the reasons he came. He welcomes her there; her and Taylor too. Really we are all invited! It’s for me and it’s for you. We can all show up.

So when you put out your nativity set this year, don’t be surprised if there are a couple of extra figures. Adelaide’s the one with boots on and her fingernails painted!20131225-095130.jpg

Mary, the Mother of Christmas

Readers- before Robynn left for India she wrote a few posts for Fridays with Robynn. Enjoy this one on Mary, the Mother of Christmas.

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Since the moment the angel first appeared to Mary all those years ago, nine months or so before the very first Christmas, until now, her story has fascinated me.

In some countries and circles she has been venerated almost to the point of being deified. She has been painted, prayed to, discovered on grilled cheese sandwiches and on the tops of mountains in France. Shrines have been set up to her. People have looked to her to perform miracles or to convince her Son to perform miracles. As a result many of us Protestants have thrown out the Baby’s mother with the bath water. We have freaked out and we’ve over-reacted! Certainly, it is true, we should not ascribe to her what only belongs to her Son, but neither should we ignore her.

Mary, this “lowly servant girl” has a lot to teach us and we need to be among those who “from now on call (her) blessed”.

In the Old Testament God related to his humankind through an elaborate system of laws, sacrifices, priests. It seems to me that He set up a system that the people couldn’t possibly succeed at. They were human. They failed. And he knew that they would. He let them try again and again and again. He was preparing the stage for the grand entrance of Grace and Hope… for the birth of Jesus.

And He chose Mary to be the woman who would bear the Son. She was the package, the vessel, the container. Hers was the womb. She alone was chosen for the unique privilege of being the first to be literally indwelt with God himself, with the Son, to contain the very Presence of God.

​And what was Mary’s response? Her first reaction was confusion but not doubt. She was perplexed over the biology of the whole thing. How could this happen? Spiritually she didn’t hesitate for a minute. There was woven into the fabric of Mary’s soul an eagerness, a faith, an expectancy that looked to God –fully believing he would do what he said. She didn’t flinch. She didn’t hesitate. She said yes to God. And her yes brought Jesus into her world. Mary’s yes delivered the Christ to those around her and ultimately to us!

Mary was the first to give home to the indwelling presence of God—the Son in Embryonic form was knit together in Mary’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully. And because of her agreeing in faith to house the Holy One we also are invited into a similar experience. We also at the point of our believing, at the moment of faith, are in some way overshadowed by the Holy One and filled with the Spirit. It is no less a miracle than that first filling. The reality is just as sure that God himself is with us. He has left us His Spirit and He resides in us—fearfully and wonderfully.

We too are filled with God. He is Emmanuel. God with us.

We may at times experience the perplexity: how can this be? And yet let us also join with Mary in faith. Let us not flinch back in fear from being overshadowed by God! Let us not hesitate to surrender to God, to what He is doing in our lives, to how He wants to use us to deliver Christ to the world around us. Mary was our example. Let us join with her and say “yes” to our great God!20131213-090031.jpg

Second Friday of Advent: A Place at the Nativity

My eighth grade daughter’s Language Arts teacher is an interesting bird. She’s a little scatter brained, a little flighty. Last week she divided the class into pairs. She had each pair discuss time travel. If they could go back in time, to any spot in history, where would they go and why. I’m assuming it was an elaborate writing prompt of sorts.

Adelaide and her friend Taylor went back in time and boarded the Titanic. At just the right moment there they were on deck pointing out the imminent danger, “Look out! An iceberg”! Of course they saved the day, the ship and the 1,517 lives that would have otherwise been drowned. They were the heroes. It was a noble thing to do.

And then Adelaide and Taylor went back further in time. This time they showed upmanger scene, advent, nativity scene at the shed, out behind the crammed inn, where the new-born baby Jesus was nestled in the manger. They were there with the shepherds, the wise men, the mandatory camel, the cows, the sheep and of course the angel. I had this fleeting moment of mother pride, “Ah…what a sweet idea! To go to the manger, to worship, to be a part of that history-changing, grace-birthing, life-changing Holy space.”

My moment didn’t last long!

Adelaide further explained, “That way whenever a nativity set is displayed we’d be there— a little Adelaide and a little Taylor”!

My imagination laughed out loud. Here’s the tiny shepherd boy, here’s the Mother Mary and the little Joseph always looking so very serious and tired. Here’s the three stoic wise men each bearing their obligatory oddly shaped gift. There’s the sheep, the cows and that darn camel! Oh wait … and here’s the little Adelaide and the little Taylor!

When  you’re nearly fourteen, you have an amazing capacity to make almost anything all about you. The crèche might be sacred but with just a little creativity you might squeeze into that too!

The irony, I suppose is, that it is all about her. Jesus is thrilled when my Adelaide shows up at the manger. She’s one of the reasons he came. He welcomes her there; her and Taylor too. Really we are all invited! It’s for me and it’s for you. We can all show up.

So when you put out your nativity set this year, don’t be surprised if you see a couple of extra figures. Adelaide’s the one with boots on and her fingernails painted!