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John Patrick Grace: For Christmas, let’s pray for the poor, the suffering

December 25, 2018

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king!”

Indeed. If only earth would! So say those of us who are invested in the story of the Christ child.

For too many “the Christmas season” started at Thanksgiving and rolls along through New Year’s, full of commercial holiday bustle, stringing lights, shopping for presents, trimming the tree and listening to “chestnuts roasting on the open fire” on the radio.

Focus on all of that can throw the Advent season into the shadows. Advent is a time of longing for the return of God’s greatest gift to our planet, Jesus Christ. It should, each year, capture our attention and our prayer energy.

“Oh come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel.”

Did you “do Advent” this year?

Yesterday evening, the vigil of Christmas began the actual “Christmas season.” That lasts until the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the wise men (or kings) from the East to worship the newborn child. So, quite literally, from now through Jan. 6 is the time to be singing Christmas carols and celebrating the renewal of the Lord’s promises to shepherd us into the kingdom.

This Christmas I suggest we focus our thoughts and prayers, and yes, even some of our cash, on populations in great distress, both at home and abroad.

So as you lift up prayers of thanks for a warm home, good employment, loving family and steadfast friends, please remember the suffering people of Yemen. As we enjoy our ham or turkey, our cranberries and pumpkin pie, Yemen’s people are being torn apart by a vicious civil war.

Saudi Arabia, with, until recently, U.S. support, stands behind the government; Iran, with Russian support, backs the Houthi rebels.

Reports say that 85,000 children in Yemen have may already succumbed to death by starvation in this brutal and too-little-reported war. That’s half again as many deaths as U.S. troops suffered in the entire Vietnam War.

Millions, some projections claim, may die eventually if the war drags on for years instead of being brought to a close through negotiations. That’s as many as allied troops lost in both World War I and World War II.

“Who is this who lives with the lowly, sharing their sorrow, knowing their hunger? This is Christ, revealed to the world, in the eyes of a child, a child of the poor.”

Closer to home let’s remember the people of Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast Floridians, both devastated by killer hurricanes that left a trail of homes and shops reduced to rubble, and families mourning husbands, wives, siblings, friends and also beloved pets who “didn’t make it through.”

Out West wildfires swept through dozens of California communities, one even named Paradise, wreaking as much havoc as the hurricanes - more death and destruction and survivors plunged into grief and confusion.

A bit farther to the south, along our border with Mexico, thousands of asylum seekers huddle in tent cities as they await processing. They have fled violent conditions in Honduras and El Salvador and walked over one thousand miles to apply for a better life. Many, perhaps most of them, will be rejected and left with nothing other than the prospect of a bitter walk back home and the brutal gang violence they tried to escape.

Prayers for them, too, if you can spare some.

As the angels’ song over Bethlehem town would have it: “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.”

Merry Christmas to all our Herald-Dispatch readers. And “Let every heart prepare him room.”

John Patrick Grace is a book editor and publisher in Huntington.

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