Christmas in Northern Iraq is turning out to be bitter sweet for what remains of that country’s Christian community. To be sure, a number of Christian towns and villages have been liberated in the push to retake Mosul from ISIS. But Christians who were forced to flee the homes their ancestors lived in since the story of Jesus Christ was a living memory are finding their churches ruined and ransacked and their houses all but destroyed, according to the New York Times.

Christmas has always been the most poignant when it is celebrated in the shadow of war.

Several Christmases in World War I saw men who strove to kill each other stopped for just a day or so to exchange gifts or just share in their common humanity. Christmas 1944 was celebrated by men trying to kill one another in a besieged place called Bastogne. That town, a place of valor and horror, would be relieved by General Patton two days after Christmas.

The ethnic cleansing carried out on Iraq’s Christian community by ISIS is just one of the many atrocities that terrorist group has undertaken.

Some doubt, even when that scourge is wiped from the face of the planet that Christendom in Iraq will survive. The memories of death and oppression run too deep and the destruction of property and sacred places too complete.

Still, one might be forgiven for hoping that a sense of catharsis might set in when masses are sung inside the ruined churches and people take stock of the fact that they have gone through the worst that humanity has had to endure and have come out of it with their lives.

What greater rebuke could there be to ISIS, as it is hounded to the grave, if Iraq’s Christians, at least some of them, choose to return and to rebuild? Christmas is, if it is anything, a time for renewal, of remembering that promise that started in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago that in the midst of travail resides hope.

South of Mosul, in Baghdad, a Muslim businessman has erected a Christmas tree in a show of unity for his Christian brethren.

If such gestures of common humanity are possible, then anything is.

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