BIBLE SOCIETY NEWS | Greg Clarke
Wednesday 23 December 2015
It has been a joy for all of us at the Bible Society to serve you throughout 2015, and I thank God for the support we have enjoyed from each and every one of you as we work together to circulate and promote the word of God. Our work is more necessary than ever: plenty of people around the world still have little or no access to Scripture.
And here in Australia, many are still shut out from the life-transforming power of God’s word, whether by circumstances or by choice. Our work involves challenging Australians that the Bible is still relevant and true today, as much as it involves reaching those around the world who have never had the opportunity to consider the Bible in a language they understand.
In the midst of wonderful opportunities, this Christmas I feel sober about the global situation in which we do our work. New Testament scholar, Professor Richard Bauckham has written a Christmas poem that brings the millennia-old story of the birth of Christ right up to the doorstep of contemporary Australia. It captures for me the mood in which I celebrate the birth of the Saviour this year.
“He took the child and his mother by night” by Richard Bauckham
This year we have seen them so often,
one clutching a child
to whom the other’s eyes
at every second step
return, solicitous, alert,
for him, their treasured trust.
Week after week we watch
the trudging millions,
Through fire and water they have come,
desperate for hope.
They would walk continents,
batter the gates of every fabled city,
dodge boiling oil and scale the battlements,
shouting, “We too are human!”
Less visible to us
but constant in the tearful gaze of God,
lambs are led to slaughter,
nasrani to the last,
leaves of the lustrous trees of paradise
into his open arms,
his trusty treasure.
Professor Bauckham’s title is drawn from the Gospel of Matthew where Joseph dreams of an angel warning that he would need to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee from Bethlehem to Egypt in order to be safe from persecution. Ironically, tragically, today no angel would issue such an instruction.
The world in which Jesus was born was unsafe for the Christ, and it is unsafe for Christians today. Our television screens this past year have flashed image after image of the “trudging millions”, some of them displaced Christians running—literally running—for their lives. These “nasrani” (the ancient Syriac word for Christians, followers of the Nazarene) remain faithful to their Lord even in the midst of terrible persecution, displacement, loss and terror.
In fact, as the poem says, many nasrani are being slaughtered and becoming martyrs of the faith. Of course, we all recall the horrific story and scenes of Christians being beheaded in Egypt earlier this year. Bauckham reminds us that the “trees of Paradise” are beautified by the leaves of martyrs, an uncomfortable image for comfortable Aussie believers.
I’ve lived a very relaxed Christian life, and I know most of us believers in Australia have. I’ve benefitted from our christianised culture, with its high value on caring about the individual, respecting the family, providing support for those in need and aiming for social peace. I’ve never fled for my life. I’ve enjoyed a ‘love your neighbour’ sort of world, even when my neighbour is different to me.
But times have changed. In many places around the world, being a Christian today is starting to look more like it used to look, back in the early decades and centuries after Christ. Is a time coming when Christians have to cry out, “We too are human”?
As we enjoy the feasts and fellowship of Christmas, we must recall what the first Christmas was in fact like. A young family on the run from murderous threats. An ideology opposed to the teachings of the living God. A government increasingly suspicious that Christians are part of the problem, not the solution. Warring militia, slaughtered innocents, an anxious longing for safety and salvation.
In fact, Christmas around the world this year may be more like that first Christmas than ever before. With the nasrani, we depend on knowing that God so loved the world that he entered it in full, in human form, as a dependent baby, that we might truly believe that we are God’s “trusty treasure”. Because the world around us doesn’t see us that way.
With this reality check in place, may you, your family and friends enjoy a peaceful, faithful, joyful and grateful Christmas, remembering our suffering brothers and sisters around the world.
Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia