By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- Christmas is different things to different people it seems, and that's no surprise. For most, if recent surveys are correct, it's just a great time to reconnect with family and friends, exchange presents, and, perhaps, consume too many calories.
Mark A. Kellner
According to an article by Mark A. Kellner, writing for The Washington Times (www.washingtontimes.com), the DC-based Public Religion Research Institute (http://publicreligion.org), reported "more than one-quarter (26 percent) of Americans celebrating Christmas this year will do so largely as a non-religious holiday."
For those who do believe, Christmas is first an opportunity to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the long-promised Messiah of Israel (Isaiah 7:14) and the savior of the world.
While the actual birth of Christ most likely did not take place on Dec. 25 - differing scholars have said either the spring or the early autumn - the date has become a time when the majority of Christians celebrate the occasion.
Kellner commented that it won't be a "Merry Christmas" for many Christians, however, and not only those afflicted by poverty, ill health or other difficult circumstances. Persecution of Christians is rising globally, and the attacks are taking a higher and higher toll.
St. George's Coptic Church in Sohag City, Egypt, after arsonists set it ablaze
Britain's Prince Charles recently told a reception of religious leaders at Clarence House in London, that the situation for Christians facing Islamism is quite grim. He made his remarks after visiting Egyptian Coptic and Syriac Orthodox congregations in and around London.
"For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding," the Prince of Wales told the audience, according to a BBC report.
"The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organized persecution including to the Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time," he added.
Kellner said such problems are not only afflicting Christians in the Middle East - particularly in Syria and Egypt - but also in Africa, most notably perhaps Nigeria and Sudan. The terrorist attack at the Westfield Shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya, in which the shooters reportedly singled out non-Muslims, suggests the problem is spreading.
A firing squad in North Korea, the worst country in the world for persecuting Christians
At the same time, it isn't just Islamist terror that concerns Christians.
North Korea remains the worst place in the world in terms of danger in just being a Christian, according to www.worldwatchlist.us, which monitors the 50 worst countries for Christian Persecution, and is compiled by Open Doors, a group founded by Dutch-born Brother Andrew, that serves the persecuted church.
Kellner said the group notes, "There is a system of labor camps including the renowned prison No. 15, which reportedly houses 6,000 persecuted Christians alone."
Despite this, there are believed to be 400,000 Christians in North Korea, a number said to be growing, and most of them meet secretly in homes.
Then there are individual believers in places such as Iran who are also facing death for their religion.
Campaign to free Saeed Abedini
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, was arrested in Iran on Sept. 26, 2012, while he was visiting the country with government permission to work on an orphanage.
He's been in jail ever since and his health is in danger. Naghmeh Abedini, his wife, testified before a House Foreign Affairs joint subcommittee recently to try and keep world attention focused on her husband's case.
Kellner said he is also aware of two separate cases involving Seventh-day Adventists - his own religious community - who are also in jail this Christmas time.
Sajjad Masih, 29, is serving a life sentence in a Pakistan jail after he was convicted last July of sending blasphemous text messages to a member of a religious extremist group in 2011. The verdict came despite his accuser's subsequent retraction and prosecutors' failure to produce any evidence of his involvement, the Adventist News Network reported.
Also in jail, in the west African nation of Togo, Kellner wrote, are Adventist pastor Antonio Monteiro and local church elder Bruno Amah. They have been held since March 2012 without trial on charges of "blood trafficking" that were later recanted by his accuser.
No evidence was found linking the men to the alleged crimes, but Kellner said the wheels of justice apparently turn very slowly in some places.
Kellner concluded, "So as you sit down to whatever holiday feast you may enjoy, spare a thought - and perhaps a prayer - for those whose lives are less concerned about what present they received, but rather whether their precious faith might cost them their lives."