Dear Friends,

Eid Milad Majid! Today, Orthodox Christians from Egypt and throughout the world are celebrating our Lord’s birth. Yesterday, many Christians also celebrated Epiphany, which commemorates the Magi’s visit to the Christ child and, thus, the revelation of the incarnate God to Gentiles. This week, Dina Bishay from Egypt encourages us to look past the wrappings of this world and treasure God’s most precious gift to us.

A cradle of civilization, Egypt traces its history to the sixth millennium before Christ. Its rich cultural heritage reflects centuries of interchange with the Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, and Nubian empires. Once a prominent Christian center, Egypt has long been a Muslim-majority nation, following its Islamization in the seventh century. Today, 91% of Egypt’s 110 million people adhere to Islam (mostly Sunni), the state religion, while 9% follow Christianity (mostly Coptic). In recent years, Egypt’s economic woes have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. Egypt also faces a mounting humanitarian crisis at its Sinai Peninsular border with Gaza’s Rafah region, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are camping in makeshift shelters without adequate provisions.

 
Dina is pursuing a PhD in Practical Theology (Christian Education and Formation) at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her research focuses on the Christian education of youth amid the influences of Islam and the digital age in post-pandemic Egypt. Upon graduation, Dina will return to teach as one of three women faculty members at Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, a partner institution of the Vital Sustainability Initiative. Learn more about Dina’s bold journey of faith and leadership in this feature, published by Princeton Theological Seminary. Dina and her husband Amir have two daughters: five-year-old Layla and four-year-old Nelly.  
 
Dina shares the following devotional and prayer requests:

I am Dina Bishay, a second-year doctoral student in Practical Theology, focusing on Christian education. My husband Amir is a Presbyterian pastor in the
Evangelical Church in Heliopolis, Cairo, and we have two little girls, Layla and Nelly.

In Egypt, we celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. Usually, families gather around a nice meal on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is a great time for people to get together and celebrate. 

We have a nice tradition of grandpas and grandmas giving their little grandchildren some money, which we call “edeya,” for enjoying the festivities of the season. We also go out and light some fireworks, which create a joyous atmosphere! We decorate our trees to start celebrating from New Year’s Eve up until Christmas. 

Cairo Festival City Mall in Egypt by Galal Garwan (Unsplash)

The Most Precious Gift

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” – Luke 2:6-14 (NIV)

One of the most important things that anyone thinks about when buying a gift is how this gift will be wrapped. Sometimes, thinking about the wrapping takes more effort than obtaining the actual gift. People wait in long queues just to make sure their gift will be presentable. 

Gift Boxes by freestocks (Unsplash)

Especially during Christmastime, you would want to have the best-looking gifts underneath your tree. No one would like to wake up on Christmas Eve to brown bags or dull boxes. They would rather anticipate neat, colorful, and shiny wrapped gifts.

The most precious gift of all – the gift from heaven, the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world – was wrapped in cloths and presented in a manger! Who would have expected that this very precious and long-awaited gift would be wrapped in such a way?

In a world where triumph is wrapped with power and violence, Jesus the King came wrapped in humility, as a helpless baby in a manger. In a world where the poor and the meek are wrapped in shame and isolation, Jesus chose to be wrapped in our limited and broken human flesh through His holy incarnation. 

Manger by Matt Botsford (Unsplash)

The people back then had expectations of the Messiah and King who would save them and make their lives look better. Many of them faltered because what they saw in Jesus didn’t meet their expectations. But Jesus always surprised everyone beyond what anyone could have imagined. Jesus still surprises us today!

You may have expectations of Him today. You may be looking at the wrapping and at what things look like on the outside. The wrapping might look like wars, pain, death, and agony, but Jesus is still there. He shows up in ways that are beyond our expectations. Just as He had shown up in that manger in Bethlehem, He will show up in our troubled world today and in our troubled lives right now. 

May we always keep our eyes on the gift. The gift is here! He is here! No matter how the wrapping may look, ask that your eyes may see the precious gift. 

Nativity Figurines by Gareth Harper (Unsplash)

Draw us close to You, O Lord, so that we may see You, for You are the most precious gift! Give us eyes of faith even when it doesn’t look like You are there amid all the turmoil and disturbing events happening in our world today. We trust that You are here! You are the Alpha and the Omega. Amen.

Prayer Requests

Please pray for my research, which focuses on education, especially for youth ministry, in the Presbyterian church and in the post-pandemic age of digital learning. Our context is unique due to multi-diverse denominational influences, as well as the strong influence of Islam, which faces its own challenges when it comes to education.

The world is changing so quickly, and this carries many implications for education. Pray that our education will always be relevant and that we will witness the formation of the next generation into faithful Christlike servants in His kingdom.

Dina Bishay