Many of us in Lebanon and Syria are very worried and anxious about the escalating violence in Syria. The humanitarian situation is devastating: tens of thousands killed and wounded, hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians within their own country, hundreds of thousands of refugees in neighboring Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and shortage of food, fuel, electricity and medical care in many cities and towns.
It is indeed very difficult to celebrate Christmas in such a situation. How can we enjoy the Christmas season? How can we experience happiness and warmth and coziness in this special time of the year that is full of colors, gifts, beautiful music and family reunions, ask many people around us? To be sure, this is not the best setting for a “traditional” Christmas celebration. Yet, paradoxically, this situation in the Near East today is very similar to that of the very first Christmas, before Christmas celebrations became “traditional”. Jesus, the reason for Christmas, was born in a country that was occupied by a foreign power; the economic situation was hard; religious freedom was heavily restricted; the political regime was repressive; those who spoke truth to power were beheaded; religious zealots were everywhere; the birth of Jesus itself was “observed” by a massacre of babes and infants; and he and his family were displaced to another country! We are not just geographically in the region where Christ was born; we are also living under the same uncertain, turbulent, insecure, unpredictable and precarious situation!
But Christmas for us, and indeed for all Christians, is the source of hope, not superficial happiness. It is the birth of hope for a world that is engulfed in violence, oppression, and intolerance that we celebrate in this season. It is the birth of hope that spurs Christians and churches here and elsewhere to come to the aid of all those who are suffering under the difficult conditions in Syria.
It is in this atmosphere and in this context that the Near East School of Theology continues its mission of theological education. All of us at NEST are deeply troubled and truly anxious about the events in neighboring Syria. Many of our alumni and their families serve in churches there, and some of our current students, faculty members and staff are Syrians. We are affected by what is happening there, and we stand ready to do our share in meeting the needs of our Syrian brethren and sisters.
Dear Friends, we ask for your prayers for Syria, for its people, that violence may cease and problems be resolved peacefully. Thanks be to God that we were able to commence a new academic year normally, despite all that is happening around us! We ask for your prayers and support so that we can remain and witness to the Good News of God’s love in a region that is currently the source of much bad news!
I wish all our friends, partners, and alumni a truly joyful and hope-filled Christmas!
Rev. Dr. George Sabra, President
Near East School of Theology
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