I have often heard people describe the Christmas story as ‘timeless’. My recent visit to Jordan has reminded me of how that is still true. I met teenage sisters Yvanna & Diana at St Paul’s Church in Amman. They had made the perilous journey from Aleppo two weeks prior to my visit on a donkey taking it in turns to walk alongside as their uncle led them to the border and then put them in the hands of a guardian for the few days they required on the other side.
Teenage girls, donkeys, guardian ‘angels’, you can see where I am going with the similarities.
When I met the girls they were housed in the small elderly care centre that is built in the Crypt of the church. They had tried several more suitable places along the way but either because of their nationality, their mild learning disability or their gender they were always told there was no room.
No room, another echo to the timeless story of Jesus.
They were eventually made welcome by Father George Kopti, the Palestinian priest in charge at St Pauls who told me that “Here we always want to follow Jesus command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick.” He continued “ we offer very practical help, clothes, food, & money are collected and all are allowed to take what they need, we now have a vision to provide a small clinic for the many refugees from Iraq and the few who have made it from Syria, like Yvanna and Diana”
As I sat and talked with Reverend George he shared his own story. He too was born to refugee parents. His father being delivered on the roadside from Jaffa to Amman in the late 40’s as his grandparents fled yet another conflict, “perhaps that is why I have such a heart for the refugee, it is in my DNA”.
Palestinian refugees with different names – Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled from Bethlehem to Egypt, their journey would indeed make a timeless difference to the entire world. I am pondering how we engage with the story now. What does it say to us about how we support vulnerable teenagers? Or how we welcome the stranger from another land? Whether we are offering the simple practical help we can to those in need at home and abroad?
In the parish of Hardington Vale we try to respond to many of the issues facing the world in 2016 and beyond. One of the practical things we do is to support local, national and international charities. This year we have given to Christian Blind Mission (CBM) and their amazing practical work providing hope to people not just with eyesight problems but with disabilities more generally. To see the transformation in some of the most marginalised lives reminds one that a small gift can bring a huge change. As I write we are considering what more we can do for refugees locally and internationally and whether we should support a national charity – Mercy Ministries – that enables vulnerable young women to break free from abusive or addictive life styles.
And so the timeless story does indeed continue, where small gifts are given with love, they can bring incredible transformation. As when that original small gift – Jesus, was given in love by God, to point us to a new narrative, a new way of being, where walls are torn down and bridges built across communities.
That timeless lesson it seems is yet to be grasped by many.