In August of 2014, thousands of Yazidi people climbed a hill outside of Sinjar, Iraq. ISIS had come to their city, and had begun to systematically execute the men and boys and capture the women and girls.
They fled to the only place that would be safe. Up Mount Sinjar, a holy place thought to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. And, there they waited.
Or, to die.
No where to go. ISIS had blocked the only ways down the mountain.
And, the Yazidi waited.
Among those on Mount Sinjar in the hot August sun were thirteen families that I met in Erbil some three months later.
They told us of how the US and other nations dropped food to help sustain them. They told us how the Peshmerga finally broke through the blockade and they were able to flee. These thirteen families came south to Erbil.
They finally found a chicken coop that wasn’t being used. They moved in. UNHCR found them and brought doors. A neighbor provides water–it’s not clean, but it’s usable.
Eighty-five people live here. Thirty are children.
Among the thirty children, I saw Ali. A boy of about 3 or 4 years-old.
I couldn’t image the things that this young boy had already experienced in life. I couldn’t imagine being 4 years-old and hearing gun shots, people screaming, deafening silences in between the two. I couldn’t imagine seeing blood, and bullets, and guns, and destruction. I couldn’t imagine fleeing to a mountain, and wondering if I would live or die.
All this at four.
And, it was into a similar world that the Christ Child was born.
Romans were occupying the land. Not the friendliest of militaries. Herod was king. One of the most violent rulers in history. Known for his at will killing of innocents–just to prove he was in charge.
A young mother–14 or 15 or 16 years old–on a donkey being lead by a man–Joseph–as they traveled a forced 9-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This young mother pregnant to the point of delivery.
Pregnant with the Messiah. Immanuel. God with us.
Forced to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt–Mary and Joseph’s own Mount Sinjar–with a young baby of only 12 or 14 or 18 months. Hundreds of miles. Across the desert. To wait for Herod to die.
If you want to know the face of Jesus as a four-year-old boy, look at the picture of Ali. So much pain. So much fear. So much hope.
Confident and joyful expectation that God is good.
God is good…
…even in the midst of our hiding on Mount Sinjar…
…even in the moments of being forced to flee our homes…
…even in the middle of our wondering if we would ever make it back home–the dream of all refugees.
God is good.
For little Ali, the knowledge of a Messiah who knows–firsthand–what he is going through is non-existent. And, yet, on that day outside of a chicken coop near Erbil, I hope that Ali saw in me the Jesus that I saw in him.
Advent is our Mount Sinjar moment. We’re trapped between a promised Messiah and the reality of an Empire of Man that longs for destruction. We stand in the middle of time. Hoping for the Messiah. Longing for Immanuel. Yet, not knowing if Messiah will come.
We follow a young woman, and her almost husband, and a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
And, at the manger we stand. Awestruck.
As we come to realize that Messiah has arrived.
And, yet, Rome–the Empires of Men–still rules. Liberation isn’t quite what we expected.
Ali and his family and the others in that camp don’t know if they will ever make it back to Sinjar. They don’t know if they will have to remain–forever–in that chicken coop. But, they hope.
And, so do we.
For God to be in the middle of it all.