A letter from Nuhad Tomeh in Lebanon
December 3, 2008
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Christians in the Middle East in general, and in Iraq in particular, prepare themselves for the coming of Advent and Christmas; they are shouting “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and singing the Maran Atha.
Advent is the season of preparation for celebrating Christ’s birth and the Christian insight into God and life. We read in the Gospel of Matthew: “The Kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17) and “Get the Lord’s road ready for him; make a straight path for him to travel” (3:3). At the same time, Christians find it difficult to understand the incarnation of our Lord.
Traditionally, during Advent we reflect on the second coming of the Lord while at the same time remembering His first coming. Many of us think of the second coming as a way of ending this life on earth, and we wait for Him to take us up to the clouds. For me, it is a time to challenge myself and others to prepare ourselves and be occupied in His ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking by sharing the word that He is coming — not only to take us away, but to give us the strength to carry on ministering to others.
In early October, the Iraq network held its first gathering. Eighteen Iraqi church leaders went to Syria to meet with 22 Presbyterians from several congregations in Syria and the United States. The purpose of the network is mainly to strengthen each other as we await the coming of Christ into our lives first, and then into our communities.
Iraqi Christians have been going through very difficult times since the summer of 2004. More and more Christians have been killed, persecuted and forced to leave their homes and towns, becoming refugees in Iraq or in neighboring countries.
Two weeks ago, when Sara Lisherness, director of PC(USA)’s Compassion Peace and Justice work area, and I were worshiping with the Presbyterian Church in Damascus, we met three families from the Basra Presbyterian church in south Iraq. It was painful to see them as they prepared to resettle in Canada and leave everything behind — relatives, friends, their church community, their belongings.
At the same time, I was encouraged to receive an email today from the Reverend Haitham Jezrawi, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Kirkuk in northern Iraq. He told of the women’s group of his church starting a prison ministry in Kirkuk to share the message of the gospel — of forgiveness, God’s love, hope and faith. They also provide for their physical needs, taking them clothes, health kits and cookies. Even the prison guards were surprised to see this, saying “nothing like this ever happened — that people who are not related to these prisoners have come to visit and care for them.”
Friends, this is the Advent message: We wait the Lord’s coming through caring for others. This is also the message of the incarnation, calling us to care for the forgotten, the criminals, the unforgiving, the hopeless and the people who have lost all faith in humankind and in the systems of our society. This is truly nothing less than a foretaste of Isaiah’s great insight into the Messianic Age: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (2:4).
This Presbyterian church in Kirkuk and other churches all over the Middle East are living the Advent season, the message of God incarnate, of love, peace, hope, reconciliation and forgiveness. This is faith of our fathers that must continue to spread.
Life for Iraqi refugees in Syria goes on: Rami and Raya al Makdisy of the Basra Presbyterian Church in south Iraq got married last week in Damascus, Syria. Let us remember them in our prayers as they plan for their future and ministry.
Live the Advent season, share the message of the Incarnation with all and support the Christians and the churches of our partners in the Middle East during these difficult times, that they may carry on their ministry of reconciliation through your prayers and gifts.
As we await the coming of the Lord, and as we remember His first visit, let us all be occupied with his ministry of love, hope and faith to all.
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf
The 2008 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 326