2012 Christmas Messages from Australian church leaders
Discovering God with us
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4.4-5)
Christmas is a time to rejoice and look at the world with fresh eyes. We see signs all around that remind us how Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Nativity scenes are seen at community carol services, school plays and in churches. These signs help us discover God with us.
After hearing the message of the angels on the hills outside Bethlehem the shepherds responded:
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
They discovered not only that the Lord is near but that God in Jesus was there embracing the frailty of humanity. The Christmas message is discovering God with us and in Jesus’ life we see God’s love and desire for justice and peace.
The National Council of Churches in Australia wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and our prayer is for justice and peace to fill the world.
The Rev. Tara Curlewis, General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Australia
(In the Western Church, Christmas is celebrated on December 25. Most Orthodox Churches will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity on January 7.)\
Anglican Church of Australia
The future is coming to birth
The story of Christ’s birth powerfully engages our imaginations. Wise men make a long journey by the leading of a star. Shepherds praise God, angels sing, and the glory of the Lord shines around. In a manger and in great humility lies the Christ child, born of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are reminded that, then as now, God enters into history to bring new life and hope. Even on the margins of the world and in obscurity — as in Bethlehem — God’s future is always coming to birth by the power of the Spirit. As King Herod found, this is a power that the rulers of the world can neither master nor resist.
It is easy to lose heart when we look upon our world. It seems society has become habitually cynical and mistrustful, our public discourse thin and impoverished. So often we feel exhausted by endless marketing and material consumption. We are thirsting for a new spirit — new ideas, new generosity and a new gratitude for all we have and are.
Christmas is the time for new imagination. Can we imagine that, even now—perhaps in obscurity—God’s future is coming to birth by the power of the Spirit? The renewal of our society and our own lives may be nearer than we thought. Let us discern its coming and greet it with great joy and gladness.
Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate
Anglican Church of Australia
Australian Baptist Ministries
Silent Night, Holy Night … It’s Christmas
It’s Christmas. The familiar busy throngs in the shopping centres, the excitement of the kids putting up the Christmas tree, the Christmas carols in the park with the mandatory fireworks display.
It’s Christmas. The work Christmas party, the smells and sounds of an Australian summer, family holidays and the cricket are all part of our preeminent season of celebration.
The deep-seated cultural tradition for many Aussies, together with the retailing spike, mark this season out from all the others on our calendar. But charm of Christmas is more than the just the sum total of cultural and commerce.
The mystery of the power of Christmas celebrations is unexpectedly wrapped up with the swaddling cloth of a helpless baby boy born into a obscure family, in Bethlehem well away from the centres of power 2,000 years ago. It is barely believable that this baby’s birth should make such an impact that it has as a marker for world history.
However, as John, a follower of Jesus, writes so eloquently in the prologue of his gospel in the Bible, this baby boy was God who became human and made his home among us.
The real power of Christmas is the reality of God entering our world, walking where we walk, knowing our joys and limitations. It’s God’s invitation to follow Him and know His forgiveness, transformation and hope, this and every Christmas and all the days between.
The Rev. Keith Jobberns, National Director
Australian Baptist Ministries
Catholic Church in Australia
Christmas brings joy because our God has come to us in Jesus. This shows that human nature is gifted and noble. We can rise from the everyday challenges to be there for others because God loves each of us personally. He chose to be one of us. God has chosen us because he loves us. He asks us to share that love.
My prayer this Christmas is that we will see beyond our present challenges to the joy and hope that we are called to bring to others because God has come, the Light of the world, leaving behind the darkness of uncertainty and failure.
God has come to save us.
Archbishop Denis J. Hart, President
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Chinese Methodist Church
In a sense, Christmas ranks amongst the most ordinary and most usual of human events. A baby, having been carried in the womb of his mother, Virgin Mary, was born in due time, and named “Jesus” by his father Joseph.
Yet we now know that Christmas was one of the most stupendous events that ever took place. For it brought into this ordinary world the eternal Word becomes flesh (John 1:1). It all came together when Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38).
Let this Christmas remind us that the moments of our lives may appear and feel ordinary to ourselves and to some others; but when seen in the light of other events, we realise the miracle of those moments because we perceive God has been with us, using us to show his love and holiness, and fulfilling his will in us, and in others through us. Many of our friends will testify to that.
As we celebrate Christmas, let us also remember that God can make our ordinary lives special and meaningful if we are always open to his will and guidance.
I take this opportunity to wish all our fellow Christian brothers and sisters a very blessed and happy Christmas, 2012!
Bishop Dr James Kwang
Chinese Methodist Church in Australia
Churches of Christ in Australia
The Church is never more human when its failings are put into the spotlight.
This Christmas we remember the Christ-child, and also those children and youth who have been sexually abused. It is a juxtaposition that many of us will not feel comfortable about.
Does the Gospel speak into this juxtaposition? Matthew reminds us that through Christ, God has entered into this world as the “Immanuel…’God with us’.” (Matthew 1:23). However, this event is accompanied by the powerful seeking to cling to power.
Two horrific events occur: first, the Christ-child becomes a refugee with his parents, fleeing to Egypt, fleeing the powerful.
Then King Herod, in a desperate attempt to hold on to power, massacres children in Bethlehem, hoping that he has eliminated the Christ-child in the process.
This Christmas, there is a message for the Church as a whole in this stark narrative. The Christ who we identify with is vulnerable, fragile, fleeing hostile powers: a refugee. Yet, too often in the past, the Church has wielded power badly. The Church has at times ruined lives and caused “weeping and great mourning”, and by ignoring or sweeping the issues under the carpet, we are not allowing people “to be comforted” (Matthew 2:18).
There is hope for the Church, however, if it renounces power plays and seeks to be vulnerable through righting the wrongs of the past. In doing that, the Church may be able partially restore lives that it has wronged, and give hope to those who are mourning.
Craig Brown, Federal Coordinator
Churches of Christ in Australia
The Congregational Federation
We have so many great Christmas carols. One favourite is Joy to the World. When Isaac Watts published it in 1719, he was paraphrasing Psalm 98, written perhaps a thousand years before Christ’s birth. In the southern hemisphere the seasons are turned upside down. John Wheeler’s Christmas Day invokes the experiences of the Australian Christmas:
The north wind is tossing the leaves.
The red dust is over the town;
The sparrows are under the eaves,
And the grass in the paddock is brown;
As we lift up our voices and sing,
To the Christ-child the heavenly King.
On each occasion, people were taking what was already written and adapting it to bring meaning to their own experiences, their understandings, their circumstances.
In our own time, all over the world, untold millions of will people greet the birth of our saviour. They will tramp through the snow to church or they will fan themselves in the heat. They will be at midnight mass in a Catholic church, participating in the chanting in an Orthodox church or listening to a sermon in a Protestant one.
They will sing in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Samoan and thousands of other languages — their own. They will set up nativity scenes in Africa where the baby in the manger is black, and in churches in North West Europe they will hang evergreens never seen in the Holy Land. For some it will be a big occasion and for others, a small one. Christians everywhere will make Christmas their own and relevant to them, and in doing so, keep the message of Christmas alive. Christ was born and is continually reborn.
In many places — even our own country — Christmas will be celebrated in the wake of a natural disaster, or in the face of oppression and social injustice. There, people will not enjoy big dinners, presents under the tree, the extended family gathered together and visits from friends: but they will recognise the real and essential elements of God’s gift of Christmas. In the face of adversity, they will celebrate.
Whoever and wherever Christians are, whatever is happening in their lives, they will make a space for Christmas. For all the differences of custom and tradition, they will have this in common and will be part of a united world-wide Christian faith.
May the blessings and peace of Christmas be with us all.
Dr Joe Goodall, Moderator
The Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand
Coptic Orthodox Church
Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2012
Our living Christ shines upon us with the light of His birth and tells us, “It is I; do not be afraid.” (John 6:20); “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
No matter how profound the darkness surrounding us is, we don’t fear, for Isaiah the Prophet prophesised, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16).
It is the light of our Lord Christ, who said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46).
My Beloved, the Gospel of St. Matthew reminds us of the prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’.” (Matthew 1:23). Regarding the goal of this prophecy, St. Cyril of Alexandria said, “the goal is that truly He is like us and that He sanctified our nature.”
God with us, but are we with Him? God became like us, but have we become like Him? He has come to us, but have we returned to Him? Indeed, St. Gregory the Theologian said, “Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ from earth, exalt Him.”
God with us, for He grants us His peace, which surpasses all understanding and He is the One saying, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27).
May our Lord Jesus Christ bless and protect our Nation Australia, its people and its government. May the peace of Christ fill the hearts and lives of all.
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney & Affiliated Regions
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
The God of Love, who has placed times and seasons in His own authority, invites all people to celebrate this year, once again, the mystery of the divine Incarnation, with the devotion and appreciation of sons and daughters. For, truly, only in a spirit of devotion and thanksgiving are we able to properly approach God as an infant in the Manger.
Paul, the great Apostle to the Nations, although once a fanatical persecutor of Christ, as we know, did not take long to realise and confess that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
In a similar way, St John the Evangelist, who is the disciple of love par excellence, gives a related testimony with regard to the cause of the divine Incarnation when he states:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Having identified the Love of God as the greatest cause of the divine Incarnation, it is important for us not to forget that this Love has two major characteristic features which distinguish it from any other notion of love:
It is primarily a wide-ranging love, which is to say it is directed to “everyone who comes into the world”, and secondly, it is a love that cannot be repaid. In other words, it does not presuppose anything in return, but is instead given freely. This is why it is called Grace, because it is offered as a gift to each person, so long as the gift is not rejected.
In celebrating Christmas, which is the Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word, we are called this year once more to approach God, with humility and gratitude, as an infant in the Manger, so as to taste “according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7) the peace of God “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
To Him be honour and glory to all ages. Amen!
His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos, Primate
Greek Orthodox Church in Australia
Indian Orthodox Church in Australia
By the pleasure of the Father, the Word became flesh and the Virgin gave birth to the incarnate God. The star spreads abroad the tidings; the wise men worship, the shepherds stand amazed, and the creation is filled with mighty joy.” – St Andrew of Jerusalem
It’s Christmas time, the time for greetings and gifts. There is always a great anticipation building as we come closer to Christmas day. The old remember the happy times in their youth when all gathered to celebrate, the young ones have hopes for the presents and blessings that will be exchanged. This is the time when the carol groups hymns out tidings of great joy announcing that Christ is born
In the midst of a world that is often filled with suffering, conflict, and heartache, as followers of Christ we have the hope that He, the living Son of God is with us (Emmanuel). In spite of our shortcomings, through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, God is alive and empowering all of us around the world to be instruments of love and compassion.
Christmas reminds us of humility and absolute submission to God Almighty which is totally unheard in the present society. We are living in an era where everything is being commercialised. Everything in the society today comes with a price tag. Christmas has lost its intrinsic value and message owing to the changing trends in the society. It has become an event, a sphere for flamboyance, indulging in extravagant parties, luxuries and other meaningless affairs.
Christ wants us to welcome Him and make Him part of our loves and families. This is the real spirit of Christmas.
We are called to look forward for the manifold way in which God would use as instruments of His Divine work provided we submit ourselves fully to the Divine will.
Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Metropolitan
Indian Orthodox Church in Australi
Lutheran Church of Australia
We are strange creatures. We may go through life enjoying much goodness. We may have jobs, family and health. Sometimes we may spend time and ponder our concerns for the world which we leave to our children and grandchildren. The famines, the wars, the unrest and substance abuse in our own society may occupy some of our thinking.
Then suddenly we are confronted with our own lives hanging in the balance. We realise we have never really faced what comes next.
Christmas begins the great news that a child is born into time to give his life and to break open death so it no longer has the final word.
The Saviour’s name is Jesus Christ. Come, let us worship him.
The Rev. Dr Mike Semmler, President
Lutheran Church of Australi
Presbyterian Church of Australia
Cry of a tiny baby
Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian singer and songwriter, describes the birth of Jesus beautifully in the chorus of one of his Christmas songs:
“Like a stone on the surface of a still river
driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe.”
Something happened at Bethlehem that has sent ripples throughout the history of the human race. If you have ever been robbed of something precious, you will want the culprit caught and punished and you will want your property returned to you. God has been robbed. He made us in his image and likeness but that has been defaced by sin.
Jesus has come to right the wrong done to God by his creatures, to pay the price of our sin and rebellion. But God wants back what is rightfully His. He wants his picture back. He wants his image and likeness restored. That is why Jesus came among us. That is the meaning of Redemption. That is the message of Christmas.
“Redemption rips through the surface of time”
“And the message is clear if you’ve got ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes”
The Right Rev. David Jones, Moderator General
Presbyterian Church of Australia
Seventh-day Adventist Church
What is Christmas to the average Aussie? Drinks with mates? Gifts? Festive season?
It means different things to different people. While many look forward to it, there are those who cringe at the thought of loneliness, this being the first Christmas having lost a loved one through death or a relationship breakdown. It might be that Christmas means nothing but a blip in the ongoing cycle of homelessness, fear, illness or unemployment.
So does Christmas divide society into the haves and the have nots or the happy and the sad? It most certainly should not! Christmas is something very special, no matter whether you are broke or prosperous; in bad health or in good; whether lonely or abounding in deep friendships.
The true Christmas assures everyone that God really cares. The all-powerful Creator, Jesus Christ, chose to become one of us, to become vulnerable and even suffer and die to deal with the problem of sin, which he did. And it is sin that is the core reason why the world is in the mess it is.
Jesus came, he died, and he has risen from the dead. Jesus is your hope. And that is what Christmas is all about. Christmas is all about Jesus, you and hope.
Pastor Ken Vogel, General Secretary
Seventh-day Adventist Churc
Serbian Orthodox Church
God’s peace — Christ is born!
As we commemorate the birth of Christ according to the flesh, we are invited to hasten and encounter Him who came down from heaven. Let us, therefore, seek inner peace in order to open our hearts in faith, with trust and confidence, and exalt Him, who for our salvation took on our human body. Christ is born, almighty God as a little child!
Such trust led the Magi to worship the Divine Child, who was born under the Star of Bethlehem. The simple shepherds, in order to experience that same joy, confidently followed the singing of angels and found him lying in a manger. However, neither peace nor joy could touch the hearts of Herod and those who wanted to destroy the child. For every evil intent and malice, only serve to separate us from trust, as they are incompatible with inner peace. Those who cannot trust do not have faith and merely sow the seeds of evil and discord, insanely attempting to humiliate persons and condemn peoples.
What can we do to encounter Christ Emmanuel as the Magi and the shepherds, and not as Herod and his, the mighty of this world? The Divine Child invites us, within the community of His love, to rise confidently in faith, the faith that today, as always, presents itself as the risk of trust. And, as confidence grows, we need to develop a personal, trusting relationship with Christ by expanding our hearts and through us, the trust of our families and communities towards all that is humane in this world. For only the Church offers Christ as community. Never remote, never argumentative, free of might, it can provide humble confidence in faith enabling it to shine, as the star of Bethlehem already shines, precisely in our hearts.
Truly, He is born!
The Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealan
The Salvation Army
Where is God?
I sometimes hear the question asked “Where is God?” This question is often asked during times of sickness, tragedy, death, crises in the lives of individuals and families, and natural disasters.
Emmanuel is one of my favourite names given to Jesus. But wasn’t God always with us? Why did we need Jesus’ birth to tell us God is with us? He was in the beginning with God and he is life everlasting. Isn’t God always with us?
Why did the shepherds need to visit the manager? Why did the wise men fall down and worship? Why did Mary ponder all things in her heart? Why do we still celebrate the birth of Christ?
Because we still need God with us. We need to be in an intimate relationship with Him. He longs to be with us and within us and He completes us. Without Him we are nothing.
‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being.’ Acts 17:28
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
James Condon, Commissioner
The Salvation Army
Australia Eastern Territory
Uniting Church in Australia
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10). The 13th Assembly of the Uniting Church, held in July this year, took that word of promise as its theme: Life Overflowing.
That abundance of Life contrasts with the kind of abundance that many Australians are all too familiar with — the kind that leaves us cluttered, bloated and burnt out, at odds with each other and entwined in unjust, unsustainable economic systems.
By contrast, abundance of Life is expressed in love and friendship, in generosity to neighbours in need, in hospitality to strangers, in compassion for all who are struggling or hurt — the things that make for reconciliation, justice and peace.
I ask that we all take a moment at our Christmas tables to remember those who are alone, or confined in our prisons or detention centres, or trying to maintain dignity and confidence in “prescribed communities” under the Stronger Futures legislation.
I pray that this year our Christmas is not overflowing with things and obligations, but overflowing with Life.
The Rev. Professor Andrew Dutney, President
Uniting Church in Australia