Christmas without Borders: Emmanuel

22 December 2023

God with us: The Christ Child this year laid in the rubble in Bethlehem

A Reflection by Mark Mitchell, Humanitarian and Development Manager, Anglican Missions, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

It’s December. The tree is up. Presents are wrapped, and Christmas cake made. We look forward to welcoming friends and family. For children, it’s the end of school and the beginning of holidays. For adults, a time to down tools and rest. For many around the world this is the joy of Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is all this, and so much more. It is the fruition of our hope. The celebration of the promised Messiah. He is here — Emmanuel, God with us. Living amongst us. Experiencing what we experience.

Who though, is the ‘us’ that God is with? He is undoubtedly with you and me this Christmas and will be a part of the conversation, the church services, and the carols. But he will also be with the other ‘us’. Those not experiencing the restful holiday. In fact, Jesus’ arrival on the first Christmas day was anything but restful, and his early years were marked by affliction: his parents desperately trying to find a safe place where he could be born; his family fleeing with him in the night to escape the slaughter of young children; his childhood beginning as a refugee in a foreign land. Tragically, these events of Jesus’ early life are not unique: Between October and Christmas 2023, more than 15,000 babies will be born in war-torn Gaza, to families who have almost certainly been displaced because of this horrible conflict. To families desperate for their children to be safe this Christmas.

War has come once more to the Holy Land. The pain and anguish being felt by many across the region is immediate, devastating, and traumatic. In response, churches across the Middle East have taken down the decorations and cancelled planned celebrations. In Bethlehem, a church has reimagined its nativity scene with Jesus, the baby, hemmed in by rubble and surrounded by destruction. The scene reminds us of the solidarity that Jesus has with all who have experienced suffering; the perfect example of solidarity he embodies is with the poor, the broken hearted, the captive and in bringing comfort to all who mourn (Isaiah 61).

It is both understandable and appropriate to consider Jesus in the midst of the Israel-Gaza war. He was born less than 70km from where children in Gaza, right now, endure the horrors of this conflict and the very real threat of starvation. Let us remember that Emmanuel is ‘God with us’ no matter the ethnicity or nationality. Let us also remember that ‘God with us’ is true in the middle of all the military action that currently rages around the world, from Ukraine to Sudan, Ethiopia to Myanmar. In fact, He is with us, all of us, no matter the confrontation; irrespective of our politics, religious persuasion, or how we celebrate Christmas.

And let us consider how he would want us to act. For many churches and Christian organisations in and around Gaza, this Christmas will not be a season for rest. For example, the battle-scarred Ahli Anglican Hospital in northern Gaza has been operating at ten times its normal patient capacity, trying to ease as much suffering as possible even while hospital staff endure their own misery; the death of friends and family members, and the destruction of their own homes. Churches inside Gaza have opened their doors to provide what shelter they can do displaced children and families. And Christian aid agencies plead with global leaders to create safe passages for desperately needed aid to be delivered into Gaza, so starving children can be fed.

As we celebrate Christmas with food and gifts and, hopefully, the peace of God, let us be grateful. If Christmas has meaning to us, we should remember the agreement that was first given to Abraham on his way to the Holy Land; if we are blessed, if we know protection and peace, God has done his part. Will we do our part? Will we be a blessing to others? (Genesis 12:1–3)

When he taught us to pray Jesus started with these words, “Our Father”. An inclusive phrase uniting us and highlighting our common connection. It brings us together and reminds us of who we are in relation to each other. This Christmas, remember to pray for those facing conflict of many kinds, in many countries, with whom Jesus has a shared experience. Let us pray that Emmanuel truly would be God with them.


The Anglican Alliance connects with a range of international partners around the Anglican Communion. Please continue to hold the Diocese of Jerusalem and the people of the Holy Land in your prayers and support the appeal raised by the Archbishop of Jerusalem if you are able. Those receiving funds for the Diocese of Jerusalem appeal include:

Aotearoa/New Zealand/Polynesia:

Anglican Missions


Anglican Board of Mission Anglicans in Development

Anglican Overseas Aid


Canadian Companions of the Diocese of Jerusalem

Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund


Evangelische Mission in Solidarität (EMS)


The Jerusalem and Middle East Church Association


Friends of the Holy Land (Joint Anglican-Roman Catholic charity)


Episcopal Relief & Development

The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem


Contact email for the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem: