Great Joy for All the People!

Wed December 23, 2015 · Comments

Celebrating Christmas in a “closed” country was such a privilege. That hostile environment somehow had the effect of clarifying and highlighting the joy that accompanies the Good News.

I remember one year, three local churches in our adopted city decided to gather together to celebrate on Christmas Eve. The leaders rented a large hall and planned a potluck supper. We attended one of those churches and so we arrived at suppertime with our daughters and our dish. I remember feeling a bit worried when I saw how many people were gathered in the hall. Every table was decorated and the walls were festooned. Food was being distributed to every table for a family-style dinner.

We sang and worshipped after supper. But the real treat was yet to come. Every home group from each of the churches had prepared a skit or pageant on a Christmas theme! One after another the groups paraded up front. Some skits were humorous, some solemn, but all of them were rewarded with thunderous applause.

Halfway through the skits, one of the elders of our church made his way through the crammed hall to our table. He whispered something to Erick and they both hurried to the back of the hall where the elders of all the churches huddled together. I wondered what they were discussing so intently but then turned my attention back to the performance.

By the time the last skit ended, everyone in the room had quietly been informed that a large number of police were outside, surrounding the hall. The celebration ended in prayer. Then, rather than pour out of the hall at the same time, we were instructed to leave in small groups. A delegation of elders was already outside, negotiating with the police. I thought that the tense situation outside would dampen the holiday joy in the room. But it did not. The people who gathered with us that night had already counted the cost for their faith. And it would seem that the cost only heightened their joy. Amazingly, no one was arrested that night.

During our time in Central Asia, people sometimes questioned why we would share the gospel with people who had so much to lose if they became Christ’s followers. The implication was that we were burdening these unsuspecting people with problems that were surely better avoided. But the people who asked those questions didn’t understand the joy that the angel proclaimed to the shepherds. The Good News of Christ’s birth brings great joy to everyone who receives Him! As the angel said, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for ALL the people!” That is the Joy of Christmas!

Do you have a joyful Christmas memory that encouraged you to share the Lord’s joy with those around you?

Elizabeth Schenkel has been actively involved in Christian ministry on three continents over the past 39 years. From 1974 to 1996, she worked alongside her husband, Erick Schenkel, to plant a thriving church and launch an innovative elementary and junior high school in Massachusetts. From 1996 to 2007 Elizabeth and Erick lived and worked in Central Asia.

In 2007, they moved to France and then to Turkey to serve in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Turkic and Persian world. In April of 2012 they moved to Orlando where Erick is serving as Executive Director of Jesus Film Project®. They have five children and two grandchildren. Elizabeth attended Duke University and is fluent in Russian, with a working knowledge of French. She works as a screen writer with Jesus Film Project.

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