Christmas 2006: Peace and Unity through Jesus Christ
The Christian theologian, pastor and eventually martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent the Christmas of 1943 in the military section of Tegel Prison in Berlin as a prisoner of the Nazis. On 22 December he wrote that fear could only be overcome, and pain and suffering could only be borne, through faith. 'I must be able to know for certain that I am in the hands of God, and not in men's.' That Christmas morning Bonhoeffer, aware that Christmas could heighten prisoners' feelings of loneliness and despair, wrote a series of 'prayers for fellow prisoners' (prayers for prisoners to pray).
They are prayers purposefully designed to help the fearful, lonely and despairing find faith, comfort and peace in the midst of terrible uncertainty and suffering. What a wonderful Christmas gift.
'O God, early in the morning do I cry unto thee. Help me to pray, and to think only of thee. I cannot pray alone. In me there is darkness, but with thee there is light. I am lonely, but thou leavest me not. I am feeble in heart, but thou leavest me not. I am restless, but with thee there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience; thy ways are past understanding, but thou knowest the way for me.' (From Letters and Papers from Prison)
It is significant that Bonhoeffer did this at Christmas because the faith, comfort and peace that flow through this short prayer have their source in Jesus, God's gift to us. He is the one who said 'Let there be light' and there was light and he is light (John 1:1-5). His atoning work on the cross made it possible for his Holy Spirit to indwell us as our eternal, ever-present comforter (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), counsellor (John 14:15-18), fortifier and enabler (Philippians 4:13) and sanctifier (Ephesians 1:11, 12; Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 10:14). The sustaining faith, comfort and peace Bonhoeffer wanted his fellow prisoners to experience are only possible through Jesus.
There are many believers suffering immensely and in need of this peace this Christmas. Men like convert Bahaa el-Din Ahmed Hussein el-Akkad (57) imprisoned for Christ in Egypt; and Gao Zhisheng imprisoned as a justice-seeking disciple of Christ in China. Women like teacher Sister Francina beaten for Christ in Karnataka, India, and Neelam Paswan a pastor's wife who was raped on account of Christ in Bihar, India. Others - like Sister Leonella Sgorbati (70) shot in the back on account of Christ in Somalia; convert Bashir Ahmed Tantray (50) murdered on account of Christ in Kashmir; believers Immanuel Andegergesh (23) and Kibrom Firemichel (30) tortured to death for worshipping Christ in Eritrea - are now all with the Lord and have become part of that 'great cloud of witnesses' (Hebrews 12:1) that surround and inspire us.
May all persecuted Christians experience his peace this Christmas. And may Christians everywhere have a sense of that 'great cloud of witnesses' that surrounds us - that amazing body of faith of which we are a part.
Adapted from World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - RLP 409 | Christmas 2006: Peace and Unity through Jesus Christ
Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by KenJ