Many Iranian house church Christians are preparing for Christmas with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Many will be wondering whether they will be able to celebrate the Lord’s birth together in peace, or whether they will spend Christmas behind bars; or in an interrogation room.
Each year, the Iranian authorities have chosen Christmas particularly to crack down on house churches. Each year, news is heard of raids of Christmas services by the Intelligence Ministry. It should be a joyful time celebrating Emmanuel: God with us. But the special season is too often disrupted by arrests of Christians.
So where is the comfort and joy for our Iranian brothers and sisters this Christmas?
In Jesus. Just as it is for the rest of the church.
Those who have endured prison report that comfort is found in the fact that, though they suffer, Jesus suffered first. Jesus - who willingly left the glories of heaven for this broken, dark world - is not distant and unaware of the trials and tribulations that believers endure. He himself came to earth in order to suffer, be beaten, mocked, interrogated, humiliated, and ultimately put to death for our sakes. And the joy comes from knowing that he has never - and will never - forsake them. He is with them in those cells and interrogation rooms, comforting, strengthening and guiding.
So whether in the west or in Iran, He is Emmanuel: God with us.