Christmas at Mentone

We want to invite the communities around Mentone and Cheltenham to join us this Christmas.

Christmas often causes us to pause and reconsider the things that we trust and rely on for life’s meaning and happiness. We believe God is good and kind, and in his kindness he gives us many wonderful things to enjoy, and yet none can replace the greater and deeper joy that is found in Jesus Christ. This Christmas at Mentone we are revisiting this superlative joy.

On Christmas Eve we are hosting an annual community Carols. There is a family BBQ from 5pm, with activities for children. The carols service commences at 6pm.

Christmas morning service starts at 9:30am and will finish by 10:20am, leaving plenty of time to prepare for lunch.

 

Christmas at Mentone

 

This Christmas, Churches be clear about Jesus

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Our Christmas tree is up. The smells of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are gently drifting through the house.  Yes I know, I’m not a very particularly strict Puritan this time of year!

I’m also preparing my Christmas sermons and at Church we’re gearing up for our Christmas Eve service.

 

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At least since 1965, we have been preaching that commercialism is the real enemy of Christmas. Remember what Lucy says to her friend Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas,

“Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Sermons warned us about not drowning out the true meaning with all the food and shopping and decorations. In the last few years though, we’ve changed our sights and declared that the real enemy of Christmas is now secularism. As shopping centres ban songs about Jesus, as manger scenes disappear or are pushed to the side, and as schools are discouraged from singing beyond Rudolph and bells that jingle, our Christmas messages now come with admonitions about those ripping Christ from Christmas.

First of all, our message isn’t “save Christmas”, our message is, “Jesus is Lord, and he came to save”. There is certainly less Jesus in today’s culture, and dislike for the Christian view of Christmas has become mainstream. Also, the two are not completely disconnected, with the former signalling disproval of the latter. However it is just possible that Christianity can prosper without the public holiday

Second, and maybe this is stating the obvious, but should we be getting all our Christmas lights in such a knot over this? Is it the role of society to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Does it make sense that an unbelieving population should focus attention on God incarnate? Why would they? Perhaps we should revisit the Nativity passages to remind ourselves of how Jesus was received,

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)

I wish more Australians would consider Christ, not only at Christmas but every day of the year. The angelic announcement to the Shepherds remains the greatest news ever to be broadcasted. The proclamation was so astonishing that it was recorded in Holy Scripture, and for over 2000 years people have been hearing the news and millions more will sing about it this year.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

You kidding me? God has come to earth and become human,  entering as a baby? He is Lord and he has come to save? We Aussies are so absorbed in finding little happinesses that we stubbornly refuse to accept the joy God promises in Jesus Christ. It’s nuts, and the nuttiness is only equaled by Churches obscuring this glorious news,

Surely the cult of tradition can be just as great an enemy of Christmas, as is secularism and commercialism. Clouding the message of the incarnation through candles and processions and choirs can just as easily keep people from grasping the reality of Christ come. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well performed Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but often that’s all it is, a performance. For many Australians still interested in Church during the season, attendance is often driven by the appeal of tradition or keeping grandparents happy.

Sometimes, because Churches want to “build” relationships with our local community (which is a good thing), we avoid too much Jesus and too much Bible getting in the way. We’ll say the necessary words, but let’s pad it lots of other elements that we know everyone enjoys: if we have to have the egg, make sure we add plenty of nog!

Sometimes, because we’ve assumed the old story needs retelling in new and innovative ways, we sacrifice clarity for the contemporary. Yes, I realise that these things don’t have to be dichotomous, but tell me, how many carol services have you attended where the Bible is never read, the prayers are vague and politically correct, and the headline act is a man carrying about with a pillow stuffed under a $75 hired suit?

It’s not the job of channel 9s Carols by Candlelight to preach Jesus. It’s not role of the local primary school to explain Luke ch.2. If they do, fantastic; a truly pluralist society would embrace such, but it’s not their mandate.

It is the role of Churches, and our privilege, to present and explain the reality of the incarnation, and of the death and resurrection of Immanuel. If the coming of Christ is truly good news that brings great joy, shouldn’t we make it our aim to present Him as clearly and passionately as possible? We can still put on the BBQ, light candles, drink mulled wine, and let the kids do a pageant, but please don’t hide the Gospel. If we are not making the good news of Jesus Christ clear, who will?

Christmas Carols with Chill/i

So it’s a stinking hot morning in Melbourne today. 34º degrees by 7:30am. I reckon that must be close to a record for a Melbourne morning.

News is, the cool change is heading our way and will be sweeping across the Bay by 1-2pm. That’s great news for emergency services and home owners out bush and in outlining parts of Melbourne. It’s also great news for everyone who love Christmas Carols.

Even if the heat persists Mentone Baptist can keep make the auditorium as cold as Montreal on Christmas Eve, and we can even add in the snow…maybe not.

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For Christmas singing, lights, something for the kids, fun, BBQ, and a message about the joy God can give, join us for this wonderful  Christmas tradition.

 

Starts 6pm and will finish around 7pm

Everyone around Mentone, the Bayside and beyond are very welcome

Christmas Carols in Schools: the directive given to Principals

UPDATE as of 8pm December 22nd

Later this afternoon Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, issued a statement via The Australian newspaper, seeking to douse once for all the questions and confusion over whether schools will or will not be allowed to reference God and Jesus Christ in Christmas singing, as of 2016.

I am not interested in the politics being played out between the Government and opposition MPs, but I am concerned about Government overstepping the mark over freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

In his statement, Mr Merlino has reiterated (he made a comment on his website a few days ago) that there is no ban on carols in schools, and he has now specified that songs such as Away in a Manger and O Come all ye faithful, can be sung.  This is most encouraging to hear. I am not sure why it took several days for this clarification to come, but nonetheless, many people will be relieved to hear the news.

This statement is an improvement on and somewhat different to what he said a week earlier, “As with other curriculum decisions, schools will make the decision as to which Christmas carols feature as part of classroom activities.”

Does this mean the end of the matter? Unfortunately no, because  Mr Merlino’s statement is at odds with the Departmental directive sent to school principals. In light of this,  I am requesting that the Minister revise this messy piece of policy, and clarify in writing to schools so that there can be no ambiguity. Better still, why not drop the whole issue and allow schools to return to a practice that has work well for many decades

As I have earlier said, the directive is at best confusing, and a natural reading leaves people sensing that Christian carols are probably not permitted, except for within the very strict parameters of SRI and perhaps the General Religion classes.

The contention now is whether schools will follow Mr Merlino’s comments or will they adhere to the Education Department’s directive.

below is the post I wrote on December 17 with details concerning the directive sent to Principals

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I would prefer to spend this time enjoying the lead up to Christmas, not defending the freedom of children to celebrate Christmas, but unfortunately this is a sign of the times in which we live.

Following on from yesterday’s developments regarding Christmas songs in our schools, I have read a copy of the Government’s directive given to school principals. Below is a screenshot of the most relevant section. The left side describes what is permissible only in a SRI class, and the right hand side outlines what is acceptable as non-SRI activity.

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Logically, these two lists clash. The directive is clear, songs that praise God or some other deity are strictly prohibited outside SRI. The only exception to this rule are songs considered ‘societally recognised’, but even they are limited to General Religious Instruction. However, the right side column says that Christmas carols are permitted. Which is it?

A generous reading of the directive could conclude that children can keep singing ‘Away in a Manger’ and other songs about Jesus’ birth, but in my view that is not the natural reading of the document.

Education Minister, Mr James Merlino, yesterday commented that Christmas carols can still be sung in our schools, which was I was pleased to hear, but his own Department’s notice to school principals puts this in doubt. Unless of course, his meaning of Christmas Carols is limited to those non-religious festive favourites such as ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’.

I’m curious, what will happen to classic songs like John Lennon’s, ‘Imagine’ ,which is often sung at Christmas time. Are anti-God lyrics ok for our children to sing?

One thing is clear from the directive, members of the community can no longer be invited to help schools in their Christmas celebrations, which is sad given how most people appreciate these ties with community groups.

At best this policy is ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so), and that is evident from the disparate interpretations being proffered by various MPs and even schools.

For me, reading the directive raises more questions:

  1. Is a ‘societally recognised’ song permitted to be sung at a Christmas celebration outside of General Religious classes?
  2. By Christmas Carols, are songs about Jesus, the Bible, and God permitted in school celebrations? For example, ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Silent Night’.

If the answer to these questions is yes, and many Victorians will be encouraged to hear this, I would then ask Mr Merlino and the Education Department to clarify the confusion for schools, in writing. Better still, I recommend that the directive be revised to support these important clarifications.

What do others think?

Developments on the ‘ban’ of Christmas Carols in Victorian Schools

Over the last few days there have been developments on the issue of Christmas songs in Victorian State Schools.  Although, perhaps ‘side-step’ or ‘entanglement’ is a better description than development!

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This week, the Geelong Advertiser’s front page headline is, ‘Don’t Take Our Carols. Religious Xmas songs could be banned at schools, claims Katos”

On December 12, former Attorney General and current member for Box Hill, Robert Clark, wrote this.

“It’s hard to believe it could happen, but this year’s school Christmas concerts may be the last at which children are allowed to sing traditional carols, under new State government rules quietly introduced last month.

Well known and much loved Christmas carols like Silent Night, Away in the Manger and Come All Ye Faithful are all caught by the new bans.

The Education Department has instructed government school principals that parent volunteers or outside music instructors are not allowed to teach carols or other “praise music” to students unless it is “common societally recognised music” (whatever that means).

As well, teachers will only be allowed to teach carols if it is part of “general religious instruction”.

The new rules have already caused at least one school to decide to remove traditional carols from their end of year performance, before reversing the decision after parent protest.

Next year, many more schools are likely to decide it is easier to scrap Christmas carols altogether rather than try to work out whether or when they are allowed to have them under the new rules.

It’s not clear whether these new rules are part of a deliberate move to drive out Christmas carols from schools, or the unintended consequences of bureaucratic incompetence and bad drafting.

Either way, the government must withdraw these new rules and allow students at government schools to learn, sing and enjoy Christmas carols as they have for generations.”

Member for Mildura, Peter Crisp, is under the same impression and yesterday began a petition asking for Daniel Andrews to reverse his decision in banning Christian carols from our schools

Education Minister, James Merlino, has today released this response,

“You may have heard ridiculous claims from Coalition MPs that we have banned Christmas carols in schools. That is just untrue.

To be absolutely clear, traditional Christmas carols have been and will continue to be sung at our government schools (including my girls’ school).

These lies are creating unnecessary angst within the community and those spreading this misinformation should be ashamed.

Don’t let the grinches get you down. I hope you all enjoy singing your favourite carols with family and friends this Christmas…I know I will!”

I am pleased to hear Mr Merlino repudiating the claims being made by what is now a growing number of Victorian MPs. However if the new policy is so clear, why are the media continuing to suggest that songs referencing Jesus and God will be prohibited? Are concerned MPs simply playing politics with this issue or is their concern legitimate, and if so, what is the basis for their concerns except for a Government directive which is ambiguous?

We all know that there are Christmas Carols and there are Christmas Carols. While most of us enjoy singing secular favourites about Santa, reindeer and snowmen, will ‘Away in a Manger’ and ‘The First Noel’ be permitted in our schools next year? I do not mean to sound disingenuous but clarity is lacking, and recent history gives Victorians reason to ask questions. After all, even now our schools can only sing verse 1 of ‘Away in a Manger’, such is the danger attached to singing its other verses!

I have asked Mr Merlino for clarification on this matter, and am waiting to hear back. I will be encouraged to hear a guaranteed ‘yes’ from the Minister.

For a State that alleges to celebrate diversity and freedom, it is sad to see us having this discussion, even school children singing Christmas songs about Jesus has become contentious, and perhaps to intolerable.

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Shortly after publishing this post it came to my attention that I had misquoted James Merlino.  I rectified the mistake immediately to ensure it is accurate. Apologies to anyone who read the misquote

Christmas Carols in Melbourne

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I love Christmas and singing Christmas Carols.

At a time when there is much uncertainty and sadness across our world, what better way to spend a Sunday evening in the lead up to Christmas than for people to get together, and to enjoy singing timeless songs that remind us of a God who brings joy and peace.

You don’t have to be a Christian to come along, or religious in the slightest.  Every one is welcome at Mentone Baptist Church on Sunday December 20th at 6pm.

We also have a service on Christmas morning, 9:30-10:15am.

Click on the picture for further details about these events.

Hope to see you there