Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "Joy To The World"1 (Lyrics)
Isaiah 41:13 – For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I am the one who helps you." (ESV)
My most cherished nativity scene (of which I have many!) is one from Malawi that I brought back with me in 1998. This nativity scene almost got me arrested — or worse! Let me tell you the tale.
I'd spent over two weeks visiting mission partners in Malawi, from Blantyre in the south to Livingstonia in the north, and it was time to head to Zimbabwe. The party with whom I was travelling arrived at the airport only to find that our flight back to Blantyre and on to Harare was cancelled. The good news was that a later flight would take us directly to Harare and arrive at almost the same time. The even-better news was the invitation to spend the time in the well-appointed VIP lounge in the upper area. A small commotion in the public area below barely drew our attention until it grew in volume. A squad of four soldiers following a lieutenant was marching down the main concourse. They ascended the steps to the VIP lounge, at which time the officer in charge greeted us in a most friendly manner with a crisp, mostly English accent, and said, "Good afternoon, gentle people." (Yes, that's what he said.) "Could you please direct me to Mr. Stright?" Every eye turned toward me, as I meekly raised my hand in response. "Sir, please come with us." Four well-armed soldiers fell in around me, and we descended the stairs. On reaching the main floor, a door was opened, and we descended more stairs to a basement in near darkness, after the brilliant African sunlight above. I was led to an ominous machine with a large commercial screen, which I discovered was an X-ray machine upon which lay my suitcase. "Please, sir, identify your luggage for us," which I did with a slight tremble in my voice, "This one." "Now, please, sir," (he then hesitated and more forcefully said) "Please open the baggage." As I prepared to do so, four submachine guns were levelled at me. As I approached my suitcase, I got a glimpse of the X-ray screen, where I saw, perfectly lined up, eight surface-to-air missiles across the length of my suitcase. As my bag was opened, there were my ebony nativity figurines depicting a Malawian version of the Christmas characters, very tall and very thin. As the machine guns lowered, the lieutenant calmly said to me, "Next time, sir, muss them up a bit!"
The story ends with my safe arrival back in the VIP lounge to a chorus of clapping from folks who never expected to see me again!
Here is where I must tell you about the fear that I felt from the moment that my name was mentioned until the nativity set was revealed. Many things go through your mind when you doubt that you'll ever see day again.
I don't know what fear we will face today, whether real or simply imagined, whether a fear for mind, body, or spirit. But I pray that we will face it in the context of the faith that is the foundation of our lives, by which we can face all things through Christ Who strengthens us.
2 Timothy 1:7 – For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (ESV)
Prayer: God, we live in fearful times. Many rise up or go to bed with the thought, "I am scared. I am worried. I am anxious. I don't know what is going to happen to me, or my neighbours, or my church, or my country, or the rest of the world." Remind us in pandemic and political turmoil that day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, and second by second, You are with us; we are not alone. Remind us when facing our greatest fears that we can trust in You. We know that we can't do this on our own. We need You, and we need to hear Jesus saying, "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." Amen. (John 14:27b ESV)