‘The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and
they will call him Emmanuel‘ – which means God with us‘.
Matthew 1: 23
Helen Roseveare is a doctor who has become a legend in her own lifetime. She served as a Christain medical missionary in the Congo 1953 – 1973, practising medicine and training others in medical work. She identified completely with the people among whom she lived and served, choosing not to abondon them through the hostile and dangerous period of political instability of the early 1960s. In 1964 she was taken prisoner by rebel forces and for five months endured beatings and rapings. Her situation was desperate. Eventually Helen’s captors brought her before a people’s court confident that she would be found guilty of ‘crimes against the people’ and executed. To the astonishment of the rebels the people, when asked what should be Helen’s fate, courageously demanded that she be set free, insisting that Mama Luka was one of them.
On her release Helen returned to Britain but in 1966, as if to underline that she was indeed ‘one of them’, she went back to the Congo to assist in the rebuilding of the nation. She helped establish a new medical school and hospital (the other hospitals that she built were destroyed) and served there until she left in 1973.
It is impossible to imagine the terror Helen would have experienced at the hands of her captors. She must have questioned the wisdom of obeying God’s call and leaving the comfort and security of Britain for a primitive and dangerous life in the Congo. She may even have resigned herself to being killed, if not by a beating then certainly by execution.
‘And where was God throughout all this?’ we may well ask. Helen has given us the answer. He was right at her side, feeling every blow, every bruise, every broken bone. God wept Helen’s tears, and lived every minute of her loneliness, and lay at her side in the depths of despair. God knows what it is like to feel forsaken, for He became one of us.
If Christmas is to mean anything at all it must be regarded as much more than the birth of a baby boy. It commemorates the incarnation of God, His becoming a human being, one of us. In his Son, Jesus Christ, God left the glory of heaven for the squalor of a borrowed stable and an earthly existence that would acquaint him with sorrow and grief. ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
At the end of his life Jesus was taken prisoner, beaten and brought before a people’s court which his enemies had subverted and which condemned him to death by crucifixion. He chose not to escape his death and so lovingly paid the penalty for the world’s sin. His resurrection broke the chains of sin and death and won eternal life for everyone. He has set the captives free because, as St Paul declared ‘…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8: 2).
Christmas has brought among us the one who says, ‘He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ (Luke 4: 18). Freedom is made possible because, with the birth of the Christ Child, God became one of us!
Emmanuel. God is with us.