What is Christmas about? What does Jesus have to do with Christmas? How relevant today is the story of Jesus’ birth? Here’s a brief explanation via a short acrostic.
Christ came into the world: Christ means God’s anointed ruler. He is given authority by God to reign over a Kingdom that will never end, and he rules with justice and righteousness. He can always be counted on for doing what is right and good.
Holy Spirit: Mary’s pregnancy was miraculous. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth demonstrate his humanity, other particulars observe how this child is also God the Son. There are unique features surrounding Jesus which point to God’s special involvement. “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).
Redeemer: God’s Son came into the world on a rescue mission. Jesus wasn’t born because everything is okay, but because everything is not okay. And yet God loves us despite our multitude of failings and sins. That’s an idea worth thinking about it! “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
Incarnation: God didn’t ignore the human condition. Jesus didn’t pretend to be a person. The one who enjoyed eternal communion with the Father took on human flesh. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
It is because Jesus is God that he has the character necessary and power required to overcome sin and death. It is because Jesus is man, he could serve as our substitute and saviour. Today, this same Jesus lives embodied in his resurrection body, acting as our mediator in heaven and guaranteeing our resurrection from the dead. It is not putting it too lightly when the Bible says that Jesus is the hope of the world.
Scripture: The events of Jesus’ birth are more than history. They were promised by God in the Scriptures (Bible) over many centuries. Christ’s coming into the world was the long awaited event God’s people yearned to see.
Travel: Jesus’ journey didn’t begin or end with the manger in Bethlehem. Jesus didn’t remain a forever baby, stuck inside Christmas cards or in portraits hanging in art galleries. Christmas is necessary preparation for Easter. The Son journeyed from heaven to earth, from Bethlehem to Nazareth, then to Jerusalem and the cross, the tomb and to life, ascension and heaven.
Manger: Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. His first bed was an animal’s feeding trough. God doesn’t ignore the baseline, the poor or suffering. When he entered the world, he identified with those who have little.
“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Adoration: The angels praised God, the Shepherds worshipped the infant, and the Magi brought him precious gifts. This same Jesus is deserving of all honour and glory because of who he is and because of what he has accomplished for us. It’s right to sing songs about and to this Jesus, and it is proper for us to live all of life for him. Who else died for sin? Who else can forgive sins? Who else can gift us eternal life?
Shepherds. Among the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth were ordinary people, even social outcasts. This reminds us how God’s good news isn’t for society’s elite but for those without a voice. Christianity is not a gospel validating self-sufficiency but revealing human anx and God’s efficacy. To quote Jesus, ‘I’ve not come for the healthy but for the sick’.
If these facts about Jesus’ birth intrigue you, perhaps you’d like to open a Bible and read the Bible for yourself. Might I suggest starting in Luke’s Gospel, as it jumps straight into the story of Jesus, including the famous Christmas narrative. You may also like to visit a church over Christmas or in the new year. If you live around Mentone or Cheltenham (or in the Bayside area of Melbourne), you’re very welcome to visit us at Mentone Baptist Church.
A devastating tragedy struck the Tasmanian town of Devonport yesterday. On what should have been a fun filled celebration for Grade 6 children who were finishing their final day of primary school, became the worst of nightmares. Children were playing on a jumping castle when a sudden gust of wind swept it high into the air, before plummeting 10m to the earth. Five children have died and another four remain in critical condition.
One dares not speak a word, for what can one say? Even as a parent with 3 children, what words can I utter? One cannot understand what these families are going through unless one has already experienced such loss ourselves. How do we make sense of the senseless? The death of any child is beyond words, but five lost to such circumstances? The reporter on the news last night added the note that this accident has happened so close to Christmas.
I don’t think the proximity to Christmas makes this awfulness any more harrowing than it already is. But perhaps there is something in the Christmas story that touches and empathises with the inexplicable.
Soon after Jesus’ birth, a tragic incident occurred in Bethlehem, and it forms part of the Christmas story. It is part of the original Christmas although we don’t often read it. And fair enough, it was a terrible event that involved the deaths of many little children.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
There are words in Scripture that speak the word of unspeakable grief in losing a child. The circumstances and time and place are different but they nonetheless echo the human heart. Indeed, those words from the prophet Jeremiah are all poignant and jarring for the loss of those little ones in Bethlehem following the birth of another child, the Christ.
This Son of God, whose name is Jesus, would one day preach a sermon which today echoes through the generations and still pierces light and life into the darkness. In the address, Jesus spoke these words,
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
He is willing to comfort those who cannot be comforted.
On another occasion, in Jesus’ inaugural public address, he chose for his Bible text, verses from the book of Isaiah,
“the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
What an astonishing announcement, the darkness will not win. The shadow of death is long and thick, but its hold will not last forever. For you see, this same Jesus doesn’t only offer comfort, he has walked the path none of us wishes to undergo and yet will do so one day. He accepted the cross and descended to the dead so that he might punch through the darkness and bring the light of life that can never be dimmed.
We may struggle and grasp to find words to express our sorrow for these families in Devonport today, and that’s ok. For what can one say? Sometimes all one can do is sit and quietly grieve.
The one thing I can say to my fellow Aussies as we look on is this: the message of Christmas has a word to offer in every situation, even the darkest grief and unknown. Strip away Christmas from all the presents and food and decorations, and we uncover in the biblical story a God who hates death. He is appalled by it. He opposes it. His only Son experienced the harrowing of that darkness, for us, that one day death may be defeated forever and all who call on him will know his resurrection power.
We cannot answer the ‘why’ of much that happens in life. The unfathomable can sit like an incurable pain. The Jesus of Christmas tells us there is one who knows and we can go to him, not because we can explain everything, but because he has already taken that journey through death and he has broken through to life again.
I admit it. I’m a bit of a fan of Christmas movies. It doesn’t fall as low Hallmark, but put on a classic Christmas show I’ll make the popcorn. As a kid and now with children of my own I love sitting down and watching the snowfall and a Christmas tune and trying to take in the smell of pine and fir trees through the tv screen.
Home Alone, the Grinch, and A Christmas Carol are perennial favourites in our house. Even a Harry Potter Christmas scene is enough to take me in.
At this time of year, everyone is churning out new seasonal Christmas movies. Among the most anticipated Christmas movies for 2021 is ‘A boy called Christmas’. The movie features a lineup of British actors including Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent and Toby Jones.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but the trailer certainly caught my attention. First of all, ‘A boy called Christmas’ has all the hallmarks of another half-decent, fun viewing, film for families. It has the right amount of snow and pretty lights and elves and Christmas jargon to draw us into the story being told.
But if the movie is anything like the messaging that’s promoted in the trailer, ‘A boy called Christmas’ deserves an eye roll the size of Hollywood.
Covered with enough sugar dusted on top to make it all sweet, the story projects a couple of myths about Christmas.
Before I dare follow the well-trodden path of the Grinch and criticise anything connected with Christmas, let’s keep in mind that this new version of the origins of Christmas is fantasy and fiction; the producers and writers aren’t pretending otherwise. Nevertheless, ‘A boy called Christmas’, reinforces (as truth) two myths that are perpetually bouncing around our culture today.
First of all, Maggie Smith’s character makes a claim as she tells a group of children the story of Christmas,
“Long ago nobody knew about Christmas. It started with a boy called Nicholas.”
Ummm….no. There was once a man named Nicholas. He lived in the 4th Century AD and served as a Christian Bishop in the city of Myra (located in what is today, Turkey). But Christmas didn’t start with him, nor was it about him. In fact, one can pretty much guarantee that Nicholas would be appalled by any suggestion that he invented Christmas.
The event that we know as Christmas today certainly started with a boy, but his name wasn’t Nicholas; it was Jesus.
It’s worthwhile separating the day on the calendar called Christmas and the original event it is honouring. By Christmas, I’m not referring to the public holiday or to December 25th, but to the event that changed the world and which the world has sought fit to mark with a celebration every year in December. In fact, while Christians have always believed and held onto the birth of Jesus as a crucial step in God’s plan of redemption, no one celebrated a day called Christmas for hundreds of years.
I realise the name kind of gives it away, but in case we’re unsure, Christmas has something to do with Christ. Indeed, it has everything to do with the Christ. Christ of course is the Greek noun for the Hebrew name, Messiah. It’s a title that denotes ruler and anointed King. Christ is God’s promised ruler who will receive a Kingdom that will never end, fade, or perish.
“The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25—26)
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” (1 John 5:1)
This first faux pas from ‘A boy called Christmas’ is forgivable, in the same way, Narnia and Dr Seuss aren’t given to us as history or sacred writ, but please make sure our kids realise this is the case. It is this next line from the movie trailer (which presumably features as a motif) that is nothing short of inane. A young Nicholas is given this advice,
‘Things only exist if you really believe in them!’
What a stupid thing to say! Does gravity only work when we believe it exists? Is Mount Everest only real because it has been seen and climbed? Do I cease to exist because most people on the planet have never heard my name or seen my face?
The advice, as insipid as it is, is however true to form. The movie is mimicking the way we are now trained to think and make choices and choose beliefs today. In Western culture, truth is no longer truth. Truth is your truth. Truth is the set of ideas that you preference and want to hold onto for meaning and guidance in life. One of the startling consequences of this is that we now live in a post-science age. For example, biology no longer determines reality, what matters is how you feel inside. Whether the issue is vaccines or climate change or a host of important issues, the scientific task is often considered little more than an instrument used to promote various socio-political agendas.
In a similar fashion, history has succumbed to revisionist keyboards, where events are rewritten and retouched according to a priori commitments to identify politics and other prevalent social preferences.
Here’s my advice, don’t learn theology from Netflix. Don’t use Hollywood as a history book or as a manual for learning about God, or pretty much anything for that matter. I guess this advice is kind of obvious, and many of us not only agree but respond with a rather dull ‘duh’. However, perhaps we underestimate the extent to which movies and tv shows influence the way we think about issues and the way these mediums inform our understanding of history and world events.
Movies are successful, not only because of their entertainment value, but because of the ways they both mirror the culture and change the culture. Hollywood, Netflix and Stan each echo the clarion call from our academic institutions and leading social activists. They are today’s poets and preachers, both teaching and enticing us to adopt new ways of thinking and living. Movies are designed to recalibrate attitudes and even to normalise ideas that are not yet embraced by our neighbours.
The real story of Christmas exceeds Netflix’s best attempts. It is more powerful and stunning and dangerous and wonderful than the best of fantasy writers, except the Biblical story is true.
The birth of Jesus is not a fact of history because I choose to believe. I believe because the events are historical and because they speak of wonders that are too good to ignore.
The Bible (yes, that ancient book which is supposedly unreliable and bad for your health), says some pretty startling things about belief and what is true and the great existential dilemmas.
The Bible authors insist on recording history with accuracy. The Bible writers also provided an explanation for the meaning of these events. Historians do not doubt the birth of Jesus Christ, and historians do not deny that the Bible is the earliest and most reliable source for retelling the circumstances of His birth, and life, death, and resurrection. Of course, some of the details are astonishing, for example, the presence of angels and the virgin birth. But this is the point, amidst seemingly ordinary history, such as the birth of a child, there was something extraordinary taking place.
In 2014 (note: this was said before the pandemic), historian Dr John Dickson went on the front foot to expose the view that real historians doubt the historicity of Jesus’s birth. He said,
controversial enough to get media attention. They have just enough doctors, or doctors in training, among them to establish a kind of “plausible deniability.” But anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe. And when mainstream scholars attempt to call their bluff, the mythicists, just like the anti-vaccinationists, cry “Conspiracy!”
Christianity isn’t true because we choose to believe. We believe in this Jesus Christ because he is proven true and we trust him with all life because he is demonstrably good and efficacious.
So yes, I’m looking forward to watching ‘A boy called Christmas’, but kids please don’t get your theology from Hollywood. Parents, it’s okay to let your children enjoy these Christmas movies, but take a moment and explain to them that these are fun but untrue stories, and the real story is better than any fiction.
I thank God that the advice given to Nicholas isn’t true. Think about it, what a burden to carry if truth and reality were dependent on my understanding and adherence. I thank God truth doesn’t come from within. Thank God truth doesn’t depend on me believing it to be so.
Christmas didn’t not with some boy named Nicholas, but with God sending his one and only son into the world. He didn’t hide away in a toy factory. He didn’t hand out bicycles, lego, dolls, X-boxes, and puppy dogs wrapped in colourful paper. He laid down his life for us. As the book of Romans testifies about the Christ,
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The incarnation (that is, God the Son becoming human) is inescapable. The imprint of Jesus coming not only remains at Christmas but is all around us today. As we follow this Jesus we gain the greatest gift that no Christmas tree can hold or no toy factory manufacture: Peace with God, the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life.
During the course of 2019, I have observed a growing sense of hopelessness being felt and expressed by people across the globe, especially among teenagers. Climate change, political agendas and social uncertainties are compounding and amplifying a disillusionment about the future.
There is an audible disquiet and growing despair spilling over from social media and into our schools and onto our streets. My children’s school was so concerned about this that they wrote a letter to parents, urging us to address these matters in a calm and constructive manner.
This year we have heard young people declaring that they will never have because of threats facing the globe. Members of the British Royal family have also joined the chorus, announcing that they will have fewer children because of the perils posed by climate change.
It is not only Climate Change that is of concern. Western societies are experiencing a rise in anti-Semitism, stories of sexual abuse rarely leave the headlines, and the question of religious freedom is no longer limited to the theoretical. The oft forgotten issues of alcohol, drugs, and gambling continue to destroy homes and lives across our suburbs and towns. There is also the situation facing Hong Kong, the forced internment of over one million Uyghurs in China, and a 1000 who have been killed in Iran recently protesting in support of freedoms in that land.
There is much to see in our world today that can overwhelm young and vibrant hearts. Indeed, has there been another year in living memory that has exuded so much negativity and sense of despair?
Our city streets are regularly clogged with protests. Once upon a time, we might see 3 or 4 such marches during the course of a year, but now it is almost every week. And the people protesting have also changed. There are fewer industry unions standing for the rights of the working class. The demonstrations are about sexual rights and the environment: save the planet, save animals, and kill the unborn. If that final inclusion sounds a little distasteful, that’s because it is. Children are now joining in these rallies in their thousands, skipping school to express dread and discouragement as they consider their future.
These conditions are a dangerous recipe. Passionate citizens and concerned people can be exploited by vociferous ideologues. History is littered with such examples and even some current movements have also been used and turned by less than helpful campaigners. How quickly we forget. For example, when Safe Schools was launched, its chief architect, Roz Ward, explained that the curriculum was designed to introduce Marxist thinking into our schools. Far from assisting youth who are wrestling with their sexual identity, they became pawns in a political subversion game being played among academics and social activists.
There is something particularly disconsolating in watching a generation lose hope. Sure, some of it is virtual signalling. Of course, adults need to take responsibility for the over the top rhetoric they sometimes apply to public issues. And yet, we should recognise that many young Australians are feeling the weight of a less than certain future.
When we looked back we remember that ours isn’t the first generation of young people to experience despondency. The generation of 1914-18 was marked by the trauma of world war. The following generation grew up during the Great Depression and was soon struck down by a global war more terrifying and bloody than the one their parents survived. Children of the 1950s learned to duck and cover, in the event of a nuclear attack that many believed was inevitable.
We could dig further back into history and look to the time of the Exodus or to the age of exile in Babylon. What were those people living through?How did they feel? And where did they place their hope?
Of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for 400 years,
“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
Of the people living in exile for 70 years,
“They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’” (Ezekiel 37:11)
Millennials are not the first generation to face enormous life changing obstacles and they won’t be last. This is not to dismiss Climate Change. My purpose here is not to contest the science for I am no expert in this area. I have no reason to doubt the research being conducted by so many and where there is broad consensus. Indeed the issue fits neatly with a biblical understanding of the world and of the human capacity to care for and to abuse the creation in which we live.
Are we reaping the fruit of generations of greed and selfishness? Probably. We are also reaping the benefits of generations of ingenuity and progress. I can almost hear Charles Dickens penning those famous words,
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”
In some respects, we are living in the best of days. Our standard of living has never been higher. Our children have more opportunities and experiences open to them than could have been imagined 20 years ago. In many areas, life has never been better, but the rhetoric of doom is drowning out much else.
Call me a heretic but Climate change isn’t the existential threat facing the planet and humanity. It is a symptom of an ancient problem that we have afforded to ignore for far too long. If there is no God, why should we ultimately concern ourselves with altruism? Why bother with protecting the environment for future generations if purpose is found in the individual and defined by personal satisfaction? The fact that we understand that there are moral boundaries and that the future does matter, is not an argument against Divine purpose but the only rational explanation for having such concerns. How we behave toward one another and how we use the planet is important because this isn’t a meaningless existence.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
There has been a cosmological battle taking place for millennia, and it is ultimately against the Creator, not the creation. The ancient mandate to care for the world remains, but the growing call to save and redeem the world is not one within our purview. Those who believe we can save the planet have far too high regard for human capability and moral will. I’m not saying, don’t bother reducing carbon omissions and forget about investing in renewable energy; far from it. The house I live in won’t stand forever but it doesn’t mean I neglect the building. I neither wreck the house nor place all my energy and hopes in the house. I’m just pointing out the fact that people putting their ultimate hope in other people will always disappoint in the end. The role of global saviour is too big a job. You see, I don’t believe things are as bad as we suggest they are; despite even the good around us the reality is far more perilous.
At least in the West, millennials are following their parents lead and ditching Christianity in favour of either vague and undefinable spirituality or choosing a-theism and an irrational universe. I reckon this pursuit is partly responsible for hopelessness that is weaving itself through our communities. It is time to revisit the person of Jesus Christ. Indeed, for most Australians, it is to visit Him for the very first time. The Gospel of Matthew declares,
“In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matt 12:21)
“And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.”
” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
Here are words of profound hope. Here is a person in whom we can rest our hope. Jesus wasn’t a virtual signaller. He came into a hostile world and to a people without hope. He demonstrated his Divinity in the most powerful and loving ways. He chose to take a road to crucifixion. He was raised to life on the third day. He has ascended to heaven. He will hold the nations to account. He will hold all of us to account. He brings hope and healing, peace and reconciliation. Some Churches have done a great job at confusing and even betraying these things, but the message stands the test of time. Indeed there are millions of millennials turning to the Gospel all over the world today and discover the kind of hope they need and cannot find in anything else.
We can’t survive without hope. Hope in the world or hope in humanity is an age-long route to despair. Human responsibility is noble and right, but the hope of the world cannot rest on the shoulders of our children. You may doubt what I suggest, but at the very least, why not open a Bible to the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John, read and consider this hope before you discount him?
“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5)
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.
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.
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,
“9 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?
In recent days Federal Government Ministers, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, have come out to bat for Christmas, arguing that political correctness has gone too far in curtailing the religious significance of this national holiday.
When a listener called into 2GB and shared how his children’s school had blacklisted Christmas Carols, Mr Dutton responded,
“You make my blood boil with these stories… “It is political correctness gone mad and I think people have just had enough of it.”
“Many of the people, regardless of their religious belief, would be there happy to sing along with Christmas carols, happy to enjoy the fact that we celebrate Christmas as a Christian society and it’s beyond my comprehension.”
They have a valid point, there is a movement of Grinches emerging across the country, seeking to control and even remove Christian vestiges from the season’s festivities. References to the Magi, Shepherds, and Jesus Christ are harder to find, which is perhaps why we are pleasantly surprised when we hear an entertainer at Myer Music Bowl Carols or see a shopping mall nativity scene redirect us to that wondrous night in Bethlehem.
Christmas remains a national public holiday, and is almost certainly the most enjoyed day of the year for the majority of Australia’s 24 million people. For many there is no religious sentiment attached to Christmas, and yet people happily gorge themselves with many of Christmas’ associations. It is also true that Christ-less Christmases have become the norm for many families. One friend conducted a straw poll on Facebook last week; some friends admitted that their children didn’t associate Jesus with Christmas, and one child had never heard of Jesus Christ.
While previous generations may have connected Christmas with Christ, this is disappearing, partly due to Australia reconfiguring into a multi-faith society, partly because of secularism, and even our exuberant consumerism blinds us to what lays behind the tinsel, turkey, and toys.
The diminishment of Jesus in Australian Christmas celebrations grieves me, not because December 25th matters, but because it indicates how our culture is shifting further away from the greatest and most beautiful news we can ever behold.
I’m not suggesting that the Australia of my childhood was somehow more Christian than today. It was okay to sing about Jesus in 1980 and Church attendance was more common, but it is quite possible for a culture to be deeply embedded with Christian themes and festivals, and yet be utterly impervious to their significance.
How much should Christians defend Christmas?
First of all, celebrating Christmas is not a requirement for Christians, let alone for anyone else.
Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told to celebrate a day called Christmas. Indeed, Christians are warned against legislating special days, as they can mislead and manoeuvrepeople into a form of self-righteousness that opposes the Gospel of grace. Under the Old Covenant Israelites were given special days for observance. These days were tied to events with theological and historical significance to that nation, but once the new covenant was instituted by Jesus Christ, such festivals became unnecessary. There was freedom to observe or not.
This may sound anathema to some Christians, but it doesn’t matter whether we celebrate Christmas or not. Christmas is a religious and national holiday, one we can choose to celebrate or not, eat Turkey or not, sing carols or not, give presents or not. We have freedom to skip over December 25, although your kids might be a little miffed on Christmas morning.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that we dump Christmas from the national or ecclesiastical calendars.
I’m no Puritan when it comes to Christmas. I love Christmas. The Campbell house in December is bouncing with Carols and the aroma of pine, we’re eating up pre-Christmas Christmas food, and my kids are exclaiming, ‘Dad, not another Christmas movie’. But celebrating Christmas is a cultural advent, not a Biblical mandate.
Second, are we trying to introduce people to Christmas or to Christ? The answer is not necessarily either/or. For example, Christmas is an opportunity to remind our mates that the Christ has come. It is an easy route for inviting friends to Church and to swing conversations around to the Gospel. However, while we may bemoan secularism taking Christmas hostage to its truculent ideals, are we better off investing our efforts in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ? In advocating Christmas are we sending mixed messages about Christianity?
My question is, are we about promoting Christmas the event or Christ the person? I sense that some of us are leaning heavily toward the former.
Perhaps we should exert less concern about protecting the day called Christmas, and make more effort to live and speak the reality of the good news that entered the world that dark and unfriendly night in Bethlehem.
Leaving aside the word ‘Christmas’ and the day December 25th, in uncovering the birth of the Christ child we discover truth that is too good to ignore, too wonderful to brush off. In the bleak mid-minter God came down and took on flesh. God the Son lay aside his glory in heaven in order to suffer and die on a cross for people who have ditched God.
If we’re intent on waving a ‘save Christmas’ placard, we must avoid communicating that we’re trying to revive a celebration for the remnant of conservative and traditional Australia. I want my secular friends and my religious friends to fall in love not with Christmas, but with Jesus. In a year where refugees have once again dominated the news, where transgender issues have made news, and where hurting families make headlines, let’s make effort to show people Christ.
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.
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