Melbourne is my city. I love its people, culture, food, sport, parks, city and suburbs. It is a wonderful place to live. But over the past few days Melbourne has witnessed two significant threats to the human soul, terrorism and materialism.
Last week’s threat of a terrorist attack in Melbourne City was not enough to keep people away from celebrating that most holy night. A large crowd converged on St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the alleged targets of the plot, to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Terrorism is not an unknown experience for Churches, more often referred to as persecution. Persecution is common place for many of the hundreds of millions of people who profess Jesus Christ is Lord. It is also true that people of other faiths are also terrorised, and that there are also examples of people wielding the sword in the name of ‘Christ.’ There is no justification for any such heinous acts, but as Greg Sheridan of The Australian reported this year, Christians are ‘more persecuted than any other in the world, persecuted more frequently, more widely and with more intensity.’
Civilisations have not always survived the onslaught of horrid regimes. Carthage was put to the sword by Rome, and Rome destroyed by tribal groups from Northern and Eastern Europe, and the Mongols wiped out the Jin Dynasty, and the Conquistadors over the Aztecs. In all cases, reasons for subjugating another culture were multifarious, and it would be intellectually unsound to disconnect religious motivations from imperialism, trade, and at times racial provocations.
One idea has always outlasted persecution, and that is, Christianity. As Tertullian (2nd C) said, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. This is evident in history, for example, through sporadic seasons of persecution Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire, and when China closed its doors to missionaries under Communism, 10s of millions of Chinese were converted to Christ.
Terrorism is not new, and while separating modern ‘Jihadism’ from ‘faith’ is understandable, it is ultimately irresponsible. Islamic terrorism is targeting Christianity, as well as other religious groups, and Western Civilisation. Many Muslims are appalled by news that a group of Australian muslims planned mass murder, and so it is only right that politicians are careful with their language. At the same time, as long as the social ‘left’ play games with political correctness, they will only add weight to the extreme ‘right’, as the world is seeing in the United States at the moment. In my opinion both spectrums are dangerous to a healthy pluralist society, as both insist on a flawed moral absolutism.
Undoubtedly, people congregated at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday for different reasons: as an act of defiance, to show solidarity, as well as for marking the birth of the world’s Saviour. All these reasons have a place, but there is something true and symbolic about the message of Jesus Christ breaking through threats of violence.
The message that resonated around the Gothic walls of St Paul’s and in hundreds of churches across Melbourne this Christmas is one of the incarnation, how God broke through a world of human hostility, even amidst State attempts to kill the new born child. At Mentone Baptist with a congregation overflowing into the hall, we sang of this most extraordinary wonder,
‘True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,
lo, he shuns not the Virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father, begotten not created’
Today in Melbourne, the same city we love and that yesterday celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, is once again teaming with people, somewhat sluggish from overeating but eager to fill shopping bags with deals. It’s the Boxing Day sale day! While not denigrating the pursuit of a great sales price, to fill again Santa’s sack that was emptied only one day earlier, suggests a certain proclivity toward toys and clothes and other stuff.
There is a certain irony in that the Jesus whom we sang about with such gusto on Christmas, spoke more often about the danger of materialism than he did of persecution.
‘What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.’ (Luke 12:3-5)
“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:22-25)
We may have resolved to resist physical violence, but eating away at the soul of Melbournians is an excessive love for things. We are the world’s most liveable city and we’re intent of maxing it out.
Christmas may be the happiest day of the year for many Australians, and it is also the loneliest for many of the poor and sick. What makes news of God incarnate, good, is not that we get to dress up in suit and tie, and visit Church for one day, feast on too much food and open presents. The incarnation says God understands human poverty and suffering, and he went further than any of us can go, he died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification.
Terrorism can’t destroy this Christian hope, neither can materialism. But while terrorism may drive Aussies back to Church, materialism deadens the soul. I get it, such a suggestion is amount to heresy in this city that I love, but what if Jesus is right? What if these ancient words remain true for us today?
And what about the Boxing Day cricket test? Leave cricket alone!