2011 Christmas messages from Australian church leaders

2011 Christmas messages from Australian church leaders

Peace on Earth

 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!” (Luke 2:13-14)

Peace on earth is more than the absence of conflict, peace is stability. Everyone wants stable employment, health, housing and. personal relationships. A stable political and economic environment is also desired.

Similar desires filled first century people. Economic and social pressures existed and increased when all citizens were required to journey to their home town for a census.

Christmas recalls the journey of one couple to Bethlehem. They longed for political stability and stable health services. Instead they delivered their baby in a stable filled with hay.

Angels heralded this birth to itinerant agricultural workers who went with haste to see the child. As well a sign seen in the stars brought gift bearing travelers from the East to Bethlehem. Each journey ended seeing Jesus the Prince of Peace.

The National Council of Churches in Australia wishes everyone a happy and peace filled Christmas and New Year as you discover God’s peace and love revealed in Jesus.

The Rev. Tara Curlewis
General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Australia

(NB. In the Western Church, Christmas is celebrated on December 25. Most Orthodox Churches will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on January 7.)

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Anglican Church of Australia

“… in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

Christ Shines Bright in Dark Times

At Christmas we rejoice in hope, the promise of peace on earth. We honour the birth of Jesus, who came to us as a child threatened by violence whose family was forced to flee. We cling to the prospect of peace in the face of conflict, fear, hatred, greed and cruelty.

Jesus said, “… my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives”. When the world bestows atrocity, tyranny and acts of war; Jesus calls us to discover ways to live in harmony. He challenges us to triumph over retribution and loathing, to pray for our enemies, to love one another. Amid rifts and rivalry, Christmas reminds us that God reaches out in love and calls us to a ministry of peace.

We choose to live together in the light of Christ, the light that shines in spite of darkness and impending gloom. We pray that God’s light may shine on those in turmoil, helping them to prevail. We celebrate the spirit of co-operation, support peace initiatives and advocate for justice while longing for a better world.

At Christmas we offer thanks and worship God for the hope we have in Jesus Christ; the gift of God’s love revealed in human frailty.

Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall
Primate
Anglican Church of Australia

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Australian Baptist Ministries

One of the deepest longing of the human heart is to find worth, love and acceptance. In pursuit of this deep longing, people turn to pleasing others, accumulating ‘things’, abusing power, and parading prestige. Yet in the end, these fail to satisfy. However, Christmas gives us hope ! The good news of Christmas is that God regards humanity as of eternal worth and value. In fact God “so loved the world that He gave us His son.” While Christmas may rightly be a time where we focus on world peace, goodwill, and forgiveness, it is fore-mostly a demonstration to each human soul, of God’s great love for them, and the action He took to show this. Eugene Peterson in the Message Bible puts it simply: “And this sublime Word became flesh and blood and moved into our neighbourhood.” God came close to us in Jesus. This one solitary life entered our neighbourhoods and engaged with real human life and struggle. Christmas is a time to celebrate that God still comes close to us. Listen to the Christmas truth as it sounds out : You are loved, – so do not be afraid.

An engineering professor asked his class what was the most important thing to come out of a mine. After answers relating to fossil fuels and other elements, the wise professor said: “The most important thing to come out of a mine is the miner!” So too the most important thing to come out of Christmas is Christ – “for unto you is born this day a saviour which is Christ the Lord.”

Have a very happy Christmas & above all know that you are greatly loved by God.

The Rev. Dr John Beasy
National President
Australian Baptist Ministries

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Catholic Church in Australia

Fountain of life

Across Australia there has been much debate recently about water and certainly there are big decisions that need to be made about River Murray. After all, if we have no water, we have no life and we need to use our wisdom to decide what to do with this crucial resource. But just as we need water to live, we need Jesus to live. When He came into the world in Bethlehem His coming was like an onrush of a new fountain of life that led to the gifts of eternal life that he shares with all of us through his saving death and resurrection.

When we think about our lives this year, the different challenges we’ve had to face – our hopes and our anxieties, our griefs and our joys – we do that in union with Him and it is that union which makes all the difference. I hope this Christmas will be a time when you will understand that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem He came here to love you and care for you. You can always turn to Him and He will never fail you.

This Christmas is also a time for us to think of our fellow Christians around the world, many of whom are being persecuted right now simply because of their religious beliefs. While it’s happening all over the place, we should be very conscious of the shocking attacks being made on the Coptic Christians in Egypt. We pray for peace and unity in all those countries experiencing war and tyranny. And for those people fleeing such countries, the Christmas story should be a time of hope for them as we open up our hearts and offer them refuge.

On behalf of the Australian Catholic bishops, I wish all Australians a happy and safe Christmas.

Archbishop Philip Wilson
President
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

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Chinese Methodist Church

As head of the Chinese Methodist Church In Australia, it is indeed an honour to have been invited to share my thoughts on Christmas.

The deep appreciation for love and the value for life are the universal realities which form the foundation of our civil and caring society. Christmas speaks to us of the God who loves us, and who offers life to us. This is clearly stated in the bible in John’s gospel Chapter 3 verse 16, “for God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, (who came to us at the first Christmas), that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The message of a life-affirming and life-giving Divine love is at the heart of the Christian message.

This Christmas, I wish all the good people of this great country of Australia the happiness of true love which is thankfully received from God through his living instruments, and of meaningful life which is built on giving oneself in the service of God and others.

May God increase our thirst for wisdom, our knowledge of the truth, and our joy in life, and may he bless our nation with peace, harmony and prosperity.

I, therefore, on behalf of the Chinese Methodist Church in Australia wish all of you a very Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

In the blessed Name of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Bishop Dr James Kwang
Chinese Methodist Church in Australia

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Churches of Christ in Australia

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us’.” (Matthew 1:23)

The focus of Christmas too often has been on presents, not presence. In Australia we are a gifted nation – we have abundant natural resources, we have freedom and democracy, we have a stable economy in a sea of worldwide angst. In a previous era we may have called ourselves ‘blessed’.

However, there are tensions in our gifted land this Christmas. There are those who feel they don’t share in the abundant gifts this country has, such as our Indigenous brothers and sisters. There are public tensions between those seeking to define marriage. There has been sharp debate about how our borders should be monitored, our environment protected and our wealth distributed.

What is the role of the church? We have the present of the presence of Christ to offer. The great gift of the Church is not in legislating morality, but being the bodily presence of Christ and the voice of Christ, especially to those who feel alienated from or dispossessed of the gifts that this nation has. At Christmas, let us resolve to be the presence of Christ: a gift that may be unlooked for (like a virgin birth) but one that is still needed, two thousand years later.

Craig Brown
Federal Coordinator
Churches of Christ in Australia

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The Congregational Federation

For a couple of days most people in Australia put aside what they are doing to celebrate Christmas and see in the new year. Some go the church. Others when asked about the meaning of Christmas will simply reply, “It’s a special time for families” or “It’s about love and goodwill.

The irony is – most people don’t even realise they are celebrating the coming of the Christ child. They have picked up on the sanctity that is Christmas by suspending the busy-ness of their everyday activities. They embrace the promise of renewal that goes with the season. They seek healing of broken and damaged relationships. They put the past behind themselves and look with hope to the future. They purify themselves, celebrate and then start life renewed just as Christians do, but without Christ.

Helpful? Yes. I see nothing wrong with this, and indeed much good in a non-Christ Christmas which can get people to live more peacefully, heal relationships, and face the future with more confidence. Progress? No. Too often the gains are fleeting. It is usually a never-ending cycle that gives the appearance of progress but in reality just ends up with people exactly where they started from. As the new year rolls on the destructive emotions and behaviours return until by December, burdened down, people again seek purification, celebration and renewal.

It is injecting Christ into the celebrations that makes the difference. The coming of Jesus announced that the cycle would be broken. The baby Jesus was not the baby new year that would one day grow old. He was an eternal new life, God’s promise that everything would change forever, and that those who believed in him would never again be weighed down by the burdens that made them grow old, tired and disillusioned.

Dr Joe Goodall
Moderator
The Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

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Coptic Orthodox Church

Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2011

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we remember His words, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).

We need to go out to meet our Christ, the Babe of Bethlehem, to receive our hope, for He is the Hope of those who have no hope and the Help of those who have no helper, the comfort of the fainthearted, and the harbour of those in the storm. Loss of hope is death, and life without hope is like living in the shadow of death. The person living without hope is a person living inside the darkness of the tomb of despair. Christ came to us to shine upon us with the light of hope and bring us out of the tombs of despair, as the Holy Bible said, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16).

Let us go out to joyfully meet our Living Christ, our Hope, Who will never be lost. Let us glorify Him in our lives and exalt Him. Let His commandments and teachings guide our lives and lead our actions. May we have the mind of Christ, Who overcame evil by good and conquered the world by love, changing the wolves to lambs through the sacrifice of love on the Cross.

We pray for our suffering brothers and sisters everywhere and for every distressed soul that the Babe of Bethlehem may shine upon them, us, and all His loving people with the light of hope.

May Christ our Lord bless our nation Australia, its people and Government. May the peace of Christ fill the hearts and lives of all.

Bishop Daniel
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney & Affiliated Regions

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Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

The Providence of God which, in His Goodness and Love for humankind, has called everything into existence, “from non-being” into “being”, has also made us worthy not only to exist for a period of time, but to identify, in the world and in time, the wonders of the Divine Omnipotence.

Therefore, as we celebrate Christmas once again this year, in other words the Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word (Logos), we are invited to approach God as Infant in the manger with humility and gratitude, in order that we might experience “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7), the peace of God “which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

Humility is imperative here because it relates to the “great Mystery of godliness”, as the Apostle Paul preaches with devoutness (1 Tim. 3:16).

Gratitude is also self-understood, because this Mystery concerns the human person directly; every human who was created “in the image of God” in order to approach “the likeness of God” (see Genesis 1:26).

If the Incarnation of God the Word for St Paul constitutes the great Mystery of godliness, for St John the Evangelist this Mystery is illumined by the abundant light of God’s love, which is the only cause and source of Creation and the salvation of the world and humanity.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)

To Him be honour and glory to all ages. Amen!

His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos
Primate
Greek Orthodox Church in Australia

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Lutheran Church of Australia

Is it dangerous? The angel said not to fear. That was the message to shocked shepherds given the Christmas news.

So is it just fanciful? This story about a cute child in a straw bed claiming to be the Son of God? Different to the legend and fantasy surrounding Santa Claus?

Why then the restrictions on playing Christmas carols and telling the story in public places, schools and retail outlets?

Part of the good news is that there is no need to fear. It is a story of life and hope. The good news continues in that it is for real. God has entered history in a vulnerable, non-threatening, dependent child.

But the real good news is that he is on a rescue mission. We are the recipients. It is a mission of mercy. Without it what hope is there for anyone, no matter our remarkable achievements, in life and death?

The child of Christmas, sacrificed in maturity, has left us with the declaration ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. It is Jesus who invites us along the way in truth to realise life beyond the confines catastrophes and uncertainties we now experience.

The Rev. Dr Mike Semmler
President
Lutheran Church of Australia

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Presbyterian Church of Australia

Jesus – Desire of all Nations

“It’s the world in union,
The world as one.
As we climb to reach our destiny,
A new age has begun.”

But it’s soon over and real life and real politics reassert themselves, and nobody really believes that a new age has begun. Something more powerful than the oval ball or even the Oval office is necessary for a new age to begin.

Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Haggai wrote to a bunch of returned exiles. Their world had collapsed and they were attempting to rebuild it, but nothing could compare with the good old days of David and Solomon. And God says….

“In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come….” Haggai 2:6&7

Just as you might shake a tree to get its fruit, so God shakes the nations to get people ready to receive Jesus. As Pascal said, there is a “God – shaped” vacuum inside every one of us, which only Jesus can fill.

The Right Rev. David Jones
Moderator General
Presbyterian Church of Australia

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Seventh-day Adventist Church

To best understand the Christian story about Jesus who died on the cross of Calvary, it is good to look in on an unpretentious detached room in Bethlehem over thirty years before. It was here that Jesus was born. It was here that God came to humanity in the most extraordinary way. He became one of us! This is the Christmas story.

There are various stories that are told of the prince and the pauper, where one exchanges places with the other for a while. But this is different. Real different. God chooses to become a man, really and truly human. He understands what it means to grow, to learn, to laugh and to cry. Our Creator made a choice to become one with His creation. And He went all the way – to death.

And that death was for us. We humans had gotten ourselves into such a serious mess called sin. The only outcome possible was eternal annihilation, unless… unless God did something that only He could do. If we were to be saved, God would have to become one of us, get it right and then, taking our sins on Himself, die for us. Those who believe in Jesus are assured of eternal life!

This is the story of a Creator God who loves His creation – loves us… loves you… loves me. It is the story of belonging and hope. That is why Christmas is such a time of joy!

Pastor Ken Vogel
General Secretary

Seventh-day Adventist Church

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Serbian Orthodox Church

Beholding the world about us, we see that the ways of today throughout the entire world are but diversions, one mindless pilgrimage through the valley of temptation. However, the Incarnate God pours into us plentiful hope, for in the midst of a harsh reality which has dominated humanity, from economic crises to societal fragmentation, from battles for justice to unrest and wars; our Saviour and Redeemer comes to us as a new-born Child – precisely an innocent Child. For He within Himself as God Almighty reveals the might of innocence. Our Wonderful God and Counsellor fills the world by His birth according to the flesh with the light of purity which stems only and exclusively from that new life. For us that new life is: a life in Him who alone offers us boundless possibilities.

On this wonderful feast of our salvation, we wholeheartedly pray to the Word of God, which in His perfected humility accepted our human body, so that we also could receive from His humility the gift of purity and simplicity of a child. We pray that with the Grace of Christ in truth our thoughts, intentions and all our deeds as people, the people of God, the children of His Holy Church, will be fulfilled.

GOD’S PEACE — CHRIST IS BORN!

TRULY, HE IS BORN!

Bishop Irinej
The Serbian Orthodox Church
Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand

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The Salvation Army

Signs of hope, love and peace

We recently celebrated two birthdays in our family. Firstly the birthday of our grandson, Callum, who was born on the 2nd November, 2010 and then our granddaughter, Ellie, who was born in London on the 8th December,2008

Neither of the birthday celebrations were held on the exact date. Celebration of birthdays are special, especially for children. We see the joy and wonderment on their faces.

Millions of people have been born on December 25 but nobody, except perhaps his parents, cared about the date on which Jesus was born, because in that period only the birth of very important people were recorded and the birth of this insignificant peasant child was unlikely to make the front page of the Bethlehem Chronicle or the Nazareth Herald, had they existed.

Most heroic leaders are remembered for the events and impact of their lives, not the date of their birth.

The very early church did not celebrate the birth of Christ, rather they focused on celebrating the resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Today Christmas has become the best known Christian festival.

Yes, it’s good to remember births and to celebrate the birth of Christ but let’s not forget that the scripture that says, Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. and celebrate all that he has done and who he was at Christmas, Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

We may like to stop and ask the question, why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus at all? Christmas “the mass of Christ”

I think in this troubled world we need more signs of hope, love and peace and surely the celebration at the birth of Jesus reminds us that there is hope, there is love, there is peace.

Maybe not so much in the world, but surely much needed for us as individuals and granted by the coming Christ dwelling within us, finding his place in our lives.

James Condon
Commissioner
Australia Eastern Territory

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Uniting Church in Australia

The word ‘solidarity’ came into vogue, I think, in the 1970’s. It is a good word to describe what we celebrate at Christmas. God came alongside us in a supreme act of identification and ‘solidarity’. In Jesus, God embraces our humanity in all its beauty and fragility, its brokenness and redemption.

Solidarity also expresses a dimension of Christian discipleship. We are especially mindful of those in prison, in detention centres around the world and in Australia, the homeless, the stateless, the grieving and the desperate.

We’ve seen some ugly things in Australia over the last year. We have seen a dialogue of fear and distrust overtake that of the ‘big idea’, the ‘welcome for all’ that we like to think characterise our nation..

Maybe the word in scripture that comes closest to ‘solidarity’ is the familiar name we give to Jesus, ‘Immanuel’. God with us.

That’s my hope for Australia and Australians this Christmas. That inspired by God’s great action of solidarity we can be alongside each other – the have with the have nots, the lucky with the not so lucky, the ‘boat person’ and the citizen, the weak and alone brought into the family.

At Christmas the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in loving solidarity.

The Rev. Alistair Macrae, President
Uniting Church in Australia

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