Thirteen days separate Christmas in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, meaning Christmas falls on Jan. 7 for those who follow the Gregorian calendar, which includes nearly all the Orthodox churches in the world and the countries where they historically have dominated, particularly Russia, eastern Europe, and parts of Asia including the Middle East.
Globally then, Christmas spans not only the weeks of December but into the new year. In the West, we decry its trappings, the retail onslaught. But for those in the church celebrating the Savior’s birth, picture it as if you stood on some far-off asteroid, observing Christmas unfurl across the planet and across the weeks from Advent in the West to Christmas Day and then Epiphany in the East, taking you from late November to mid-January.
The days grow shorter and more darkness covers the earth, but the light of the world comes in to place after place, and week after week the celebration of the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world fills first one continent and then another. It’s like flying in a plane as dusk turns to night, the jet speeding into ever-darker sky but the lights of the cities below turning on one after another.
This is the rhythm of the Christmas story and the nature of the work of God, unspooling slow sometimes but steady, sure. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me one who is to be ruler in Israel,” reads Micah 5:2.
North of ISIS territory in Iraq, tens of thousands of Christian believers began marking Christmas in December, despite homelessness and hardship. Considering the threats they face, their public displays stood out brave and beautiful. Those who could posted photos on Facebook of lights and Christmas trees beside tent flaps that are the entryways to their current homes. Via their cell phones they posted videos of churches packed with worshippers singing Christmas hymns.
One man described for Arabic media his family’s flight from Mosul in June. They returned, only to be chased out again, moving from city to town and village, and back to the Kurdish city of Dohuk again. He stood by a newly constructed building to house displaced Yezidi families, and was there with a group of Christians to deliver food, blankets, and clothing. The building wasn’t finished, but already families had moved in, stretching plastic over openings without windows and spreading their few belongings on poured concrete floors.
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SOURCE: WORLD Mag