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 is optional, Jesus is not

Should Christians defend Christmas?

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.”

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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 manoeuvre  people 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.

In the bleak mid-winter 

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him

Nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away

When He comes to reign:

In the bleak mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty,

Jesus Christ.

(Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1872)

Christmas Greeting

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Enjoy Christmas Day

Eat Turkey

Eat a prawn

Sip some eggnog

Avoid Christmas pudding…yuck

Smell the Christmas tree

Be patient with excited children

Don’t forget the hurting, the lonely, and the poor

Sing,  ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’, because if you live in Australia that’s as much snow as we’re going to experience

Tonight, watch Carols by Candlight at the Myer Music Bowl. Yes, I know it’s lame but it is our lame Melbourne tradition.

Remember, Christ has been born. The eternal God, God the Son, took on flesh and made his dwelling among us

Remember, Christ died for our sins

Remember, God raised this Jesus to life on the third

Remember, the hope of the world is now seated at the right hand of God the Father

Remind your children, your friends, and your family, that in Christ there is a joy that will outlast everything you may enjoy on December 25th.

Come Boxing Day, remember that every truth about Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, remains true

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?