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By Roland Clarke

The Torah says, “God loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, NIV) Recently I was on the bus and noticed a family sitting nearby. I asked if they were going to the area where I live. “Yes”, they replied in somewhat broken English. This was the beginning of a friendship with a newcomer family who arrived in my country as refugees some weeks ago from a war-torn country in the Middle East.

Shortly after meeting Ahmed I gave several members of his family a ride to a 'Freecycle' event at our church which drew many people from the neighborhood. He, his wife and eldest son, Riad were delighted to find some furniture, winter coats and toys! I invited two young Christian men to the same event hoping that a friendship would be kindled, and I wasn't disappointed. Ahmed invited all of us back to his place for a cup of chai (tea). Shortly thereafter Ahmed's two oldest boys were invited to a weekly indoor soccer event sponsored by the church which these new friends attend, and they now enjoy soccer every week. They even attended a church potluck on Christmas day and the following day we all went tobogganing with them. The kids had a whale of a time as it was their first time, and they are already asking “When can we go again?”

Seeing that God had opened a wonderful door of friendship with Ahmed's family I was curious to see how this story might unfold. Would our friendship grow and deepen, or would religious/cultural differences become a stumbling block, putting a damper on our friendship?

December 23rd a severe snowstorm hit our city making it very difficult for people to go shopping. I couldn't help thinking of Ahmed and wondering if his large family was coping with not being able to purchase groceries during the storm, also bearing in mind, that all stores would close the following day, for Christmas. He gratefully accepted my offer to pick him up to get some groceries. Facing this weather hardship together helped to deepen our bond of friendship. Moreover, I continued sowing seeds of kindness and friendship, for example, dropping off some potatoes or other items I found on sale.

I've always admired Jesus because he showed love toward foreigners, e.g., Samaritans in John 4. (cf. Luke 17:16-18) However, he also spoke the truth (graciously & respectfully) whenever the opportunity presented itself. So, I asked the Lord to show me how to be like Jesus in my friendship with Ahmed. How should I be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, bold added) remembering that Jesus told the Samaritan woman, God is seeking “true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24, NIV, bold added)

After asking God for wisdom, I decided to share with Ahmed and Riad a proverb of Solomon/Suleiman, who according to the Bible and the Qur'an, was given exceptional wisdom by God. Both of them read it and expressed deep appreciation. Here's the note I sent:

In August just before your family arrived in our country I celebrated my 70th birthday. My youngest son gave me a book titled, Proverbs from around the world, which I found very interesting. I've put together a few sayings from that book along with some insights I previously learned ... On the theme of generosity Solomon had this to say, “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything.” This proverb penned by Solomon, is echoed in similar sayings around the world: “If you do charity your house will always be rich.” (Arabic) “To give is to save.” (Namibia) “What you give away you keep.” (Kurdish) “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliot) “Every man goes down to his death bearing in his hands only that which he has given away.” (Persian) “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”(Jesus/Nabi Isa, John 12:24-25) Solomon also thought deeply about life and death: “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die … God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, yet even so people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. … A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born.” (Eccl. 3 & 7)

In Canadian culture, Christmas is a time of gift giving and generosity which makes these sayings especially relevant. Furthermore, for many 'westerners', (even those who are not religious), Christmas is an opportunity to decorate our homes with lights and stars. I asked Ahmed, “What do you think of all the sparkling decorations?” He replied, “They're beautiful.”

I shared with Ahmed a spiritual meditation on light, titled, Can you imagine what happened next? In due course, I hope to ask Ahmed if he has noticed any star decorations? And then I will follow it up by mentioning the well-known Christmas story featuring a bright star which captured the attention of a number of near eastern wise men. It inspired them to take a long journey to Jerusalem to pay homage to the new born king. These astrologers/magi rejoiced greatly when they finally found baby Jesus (also called the Messiah/Al Masih). Interestingly, the biblical nativity story mentions other clues involving light, “Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness.” (Luke 1:78-79 HCSB; cf. Isaiah 49:6; 2 Peter 1:19)

The theme of light is explored in several articles that we have written. In those articles, we generally explain the gospel by unfolding God's word as Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (NIV) Building on O.T. foundations, we need to show how key themes are clarified and fulfilled in the N.T. with the coming of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah.

Conclusion: “be prepared in season and out of season”

Christmas has been called the 'season of lights' for obvious reasons, not least of which is the Bethlehem star. Interestingly, none of the above articles mention the word Christmas, and yet it is true, opportunities abound during this special season for engaging people in meaningful conversation about Jesus as the Messiah, who came to bring God's light and salvation to the world. However, the imagery of light is by no means limited to Christmas time. Let us take to heart the exhortation in 2 Timothy 4:2; “Preach the word ... in season and out of season.” (NIV) Why talk about light only in December? Why not point people to “the true light who gives light to everyone” year-round? (John 1:3,9; 8:12) Never forget, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)

All Bible quotations are taken from the NLT version unless otherwise indicated.

Endnote: Points to Ponder

Interestingly, the 'Christmas' story of the wise men in Matthew 2:1-10 contains nothing offensive to Muslims, yet elsewhere the Bible blatantly contradicts the foundational Islamic teaching denying that Allah can ever father a son. Luke 1:36 tells how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary telling her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.” On the one hand, this statement contradicts core Islamic doctrine, yet an honest Muslim cannot deny the Qur'an affirms that God's Spirit caused Jesus (Isa) to be conceived within the virgin Maryam. (Surah 21:91; 66:12) I'm not sure when I'll get the opportunity to discuss this with my friend Ahmed, but my hope and prayer is: that this dilemma will open his mind to seek to know the truth which will set him free. Another thought-provoking aspect of the nativity story pertains to how God chose the name for Mary's special baby.

I would love to hear from you. If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at Ronal Clarke