In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Luke 2:1
When I read the Christmas stories in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, I am drawn to the figures who play a role in the special occasion yet remain unseen: the diverse crowds drawn to Bethlehem to register for the census who have booked every available room; the many family members of Joseph from the lineage of David who had spread all over ancient Judea and beyond and had been called back to a town and place that must have felt like a homeland; the harried and exhausted innkeeper who arranged for the makeshift accommodations in the barn out back to “keep the customers happy” (owning my own business, I can definitely relate!); and the nameless, haggard shepherds to whom the Gospel writer in Luke attributes raw human emotions—shock and joy—as they experience a literal epiphany, make their way to witness the birth of Jesus and consequently serve as the first apostles to His ministry.
This panoply of actors—seen and unseen—in ancient Bethlehem reminds me of the eclectic world around us. It calls to mind our missions and partnerships in such places as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Syria, India, and the Philippines. I conjure up lines of children gathering to sing during their morning assembly in a walled school compound in Port-au-Prince; a group of senior citizens sitting under a pergola for their daily fellowship at a church in Santa Clara; pastors scouring a village in rural India to rescue child slaves and reunite them with their families; and supplicants lined up at a mountainside clinic in San Juan awaiting treatment. I remember the humble servants who work in these places without fear and without boundary and allow the members of our church to work and worship alongside them.
For me the Advent story reminds us how God, through the birth and ministry of His Son, has brought together every people from every nation to work all things together for His good.
My prayer this Advent season is that we will do the difficult and important work with our whole hearts, no matter where it takes us.
About the Contributor
Kam Neely serves on the Session as Chair of International Missions. He and his wife, Emily Crow Neely, have three sons: Foster, Wade Cooper and Ramsey.