2013 Christmas Messages from Australian Church Leaders
God with us
“A young woman is with child, and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
The birth of any child fills the parents, family and friends with awe and wonder. It is truly an amazing event. Often the name chosen for the newborn is of special significance, it may be a traditional family name or connect with someone special, it may be chosen for its meaning and with a hope that shapes the future of the young life.
At Christmas Christians recall the birth of one born long ago in Bethlehem, the scriptures pointed to this child and proclaimed that the child would be called Immanuel. This name means “God with us”. The real significance of Jesus’ birth is that he is born as we are and he is the Son of God with us.
In the early years Jesus’ life was threatened, his family sought asylum in Egypt until it was safe to return home, clearly Jesus as God with us knows the experience of those seeking asylum in another land. He knows the experience of the poor and the homeless. Jesus is God with us in all life’s experiences.
May we in Australia know and see “God with us”.
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 Reverend Tara Curlewis, General Secretary
National Council of Churches in Australia
(NB. 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
At Christmas we who are so preoccupied, so anxious, can suddenly catch a vision of glory – angels singing, shepherds praising God, and the Christ child lying in a manger. If only for a moment, we remember what all this meant for us when we still had the capacity for wonder.
This is an invitation. At Christmas we are all called to renew our imagination and our hope. When we take time with family and friends, waiting with one another and sharing our lives and stories, we broaden our vision. The world need not be a disenchanted place; it need not be a place of mistrust and bitter contest. Here, in the company of one another, we draw near to the truth that, in spite of everything, God is at work in the midst of his people and at the heart of history; God is with us.
The spirit of this festival always enlivens the Church. We are above all a people of charity and of joy. In so many ways this gracious spirit overflows into the community—in work to support the sick and the suffering, in the hospitality we offer to strangers and those on the margins, and in much besides. Of course, our failings are well known. And yet we are still called to proclaim a new kind of society, characterised by mutual care and concern, and, indeed, a new kind of humanity. May God grant us all new vision and courage to live fully into our high calling.
Archbishop Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate
Anglican Church of Australia
Australian Baptist Ministries
Tis the season to be giving…cry the carollers of commercialism as Australians head to the shops this Christmas. It raises the question when we find a moment to think, in this busy season, why do we do it? Where does this gift-giving custom come from?
The best explanation points back to a dirty stable in the inconspicuous town of Bethlehem in outback Middle East. Wise men came bearing regal gifts for this newborn child. Their gift giving pointed to the fact that this was no ordinary birth and no ordinary child but one who was destined to change the course of human history.
This Christmas gift of life, the birth of a son who embodies the promise of hope for the future, resonates with our deepest longings. In a age of selfishness, the selfless giving for the sake of others provides the inspiration for all gift giving.
This is what motivates our propensity to give at Christmas. It is a response of our heartfelt thanks that arises out of our closest loving relationships, so we give. Illustrating this motif are the words found in John’s Gospel … For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
God’s gift of Jesus cannot be replicated because it was the ultimate gift of love. But it can be a benchmark for genuine sacrificial giving.
Sadly however as John Watson noted in his piece “The Lucky Country” (The Age Nov 4), as a nation we lack a generosity in our giving. He decries our national meanness that impacts overseas aid and exhibits itself in collective contempt for the poor.
Maybe this year as we quietly reflect on God’s gift of life and love to us, we might consider giving more generously to those less fortunate and in need of gifts that bring hope.
The Reverend Keith Jobberns, National Director
Australian Baptist Ministries
Australian Christian Churches
The spending habits of man versus the generosity of God
Christmas has always been synonymous with generosity and the giving of gifts.
Two words we hear quite a lot these days is ‘consumer sentiment’. Simply put, it’s a measurement that reflects people’s willingness (or resistance) to spend their money. Prevailing conditions in the community – social, economic and political – all affect this. During the Christmas season, retailers are extremely interested in consumer sentiment because that determines the level of people’s spending, particularly on the gifts to friends and family.
Christmas is a wonderful reminder that God’s generosity was not limited by prevailing social conditions. In fact, it was into those conditions that He gave the human race the greatest gift of all: His own son, Jesus Christ. This gift of God came at great cost. He didn’t limit His giving but instead He gave the most extravagant, life-giving gift in the midst of a climate of spiritual poverty. During the greatest recession of the soul is the ultimate revival of the spirit.
We will all have opportunity to both give and receive gifts this Christmas. Our prayer is that many who are given the invitation to receive God’s incredible gift will choose to accept it with joy.
The Australian Christian Churches pray that you have a blessed Christmas, and peace for the New Year.
Wayne Alcorn, National President
Australian Christian Churches
Catholic Church in Australia
Christmas is a reminder that God took our human nature and ennobled it.
God has loved us first. This reminds us that each of us is loved and valued without limit. As Christmas comes we remember especially those who are burdened and sick, families and nations beset by tragedy, refugees who, like the Lord, had nowhere to lay their heads, and all in any state of need. Jesus took our weakness and humanity to show us that we can always live in the hope of the light and peace that only he can bring.
May the peace of the Lord be with you and those you love this Christmas.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Archbishop Denis J Hart, President
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Chinese Methodist Church
We were made for the presence of God, and His presence will always be the most vital thing in our individual and corporate lives. But what are we doing to make His presence welcome? The apostle John tells us melancholically how the Light, the Word in whom was the fullness of God’s true grace and glory, “… came to his own, and his own did not receive him.” This same tragedy can be observed repeatedly today. People reject His presence when the deliberate reject the authority of his written word. They reject His presence when they choose to remain in their sins. We reject His presence when we harden our hearts and turn our eyes away from “the little ones” who come to us in their need, looking instead for cause or causes to blame for their misfortunes. Most of all, we reject His presence when we simply refuse to let him do His work through us to make us His true image in this world.
This Christmas, I wish that all of us may open our hearts to God and welcome wholeheartedly His holy and loving presence in our lives. Then “Immanuel” will become real in our lives.
Bishop Dr James Kwang
Chinese Methodist Church in Australia
The Congregational Federation
The Jewish greeting “Shalom” means “peace”: a peace of fullness, having all we need to feel complete and healthy. The prophet Isaiah, part of the tiny nation of Israel, surrounded and continually overrun by emerging empires, saw a future of peace. It was a bold call in a country that was either at war or preparing for war and yet he sad that the nations “shall beat their swords into ploughshares”.
Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, the “Prince of Peace” that Isaiah foretold. “Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus said, “for they shall be called children of God”. Later St Francis of Assisi prayed “Make me a channel of your peace”.
We still wait for peace in our communities, our nation and our world. Is waiting enough? Is the absence of conflict enough? When Isaiah talked about beating swords into ploughshares he was not saying that the swords would be thrown away but the weapons of war would be refashioned and re-used for new purposes, to provide for the needs of all people.
Jesus’ reference to “peacemakers” was a call to actively find solutions to the issues that divide people and bring about conflict.
May we all celebrate Christmas. May we all enjoy joy and hope. And may we all commit ourselves to be the agents that will bring a real peace, a peace of justice and completeness, to those around us and to our world.
Dr Joe Goodall, Moderator
The Congregational Federation of Australia and New Zealand
Coptic Orthodox Church
Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2013
It is my pleasure to wish you a blessed Feast of the Nativity, in which we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who was incarnated for our salvation.
The birth of Christ marked new beginning for all mankind. Through his birth, our Lord Jesus Christ has shined on humanity similar to when light dawns and shines in the pitch darkness. St John said: “… and the light shines in the darkness …that was the true light which gives light to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:5,9).
Moreover, St Matthew draws upon the prophetic words of Isaiah saying: “the people who sat in darkness saw a great light (matthew4:16).
The birth of Christ is the beginning of new covenant between God and man, “I have come to you may have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Furthermore, the birth of Christ is the beginning of new relationship between people. “Beloved", says St John, "if God so loved us we also ought to love one another." (1John 4:11).
May true Christian love fill our hearts, homes, families, Churches and society transforming us to be Christ like.
May Christ our Lord bless our beloved country Australia, its people and Government.
May the peace of Christ fill the hearts and lives of all.
Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Sydney & Affiliated Regions
Indian Orthodox Church in Australia
We are blessed by yet another Advent season and we are getting ready for the Christmas celebrations alike every year. When we get involved in the celebrations we should also remember our brethren who are facing trials and persecution in different parts of the world, especially in Syria and Egypt.
The world we are dwelling is always filled with hatred, violence, strife and jealousy which is caused by the selfish nature of the human beings. The greatest irony is despite knowing the reason for all the problems we are still treading on the wrong track. The greatest message of Christmas is to love unconditionally without expecting anything in return which also forms the true spirit of Christmas.
When we celebrate Christmas this year, amidst all chaos, let us do it in the right manner with the right spirit by loving unconditionally and make this world a better place.
Wishing everyone a blessed, peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Metropolitan
Indian Orthodox Church in Australia
Serbian Orthodox Church
GOD’S PEACE — CHRIST IS BORN!
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law – so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4-5). The Son of God accepted our human nature in order to reconcile it to its Creator, placing it in the perfect communion of His all-encompassing love.
However, the world today no longer finds its point of origin and the source of its communion in God. Our contemporaries express a strong sense of the parity, in which natural or cultural distinctions become obstacles that must be “overcome” or cast aside for the sake of society. Persons shun the community of salvation in favour of individual freedom, devising new directions for their life.
The sanctity of the most intimate human community – marriage, and with it family is compromised before diversity without unity. The sacramental character of marriage and family life is sacrificed before plurality and already legally challenged in New Zealand and seeking an open horizon in Australia.
Yet, that Child of Bethlehem “has made known to us the mystery of His will – according to His good pleasure – that He set forth in Him, to be put into effect in the fullness of time, to bring all things in heaven and on earth together in Christ" (Eph. 1:9-10). Rejoice today in His birth.
TRULY, HE IS BORN!
The Serbian Orthodox Church, Metropolitanate of Australia and New Zealand
The Salvation Army
Christmas is often referred to as a family time and sadly this is not true for everyone.
Our theme for this Christmas is Connect, with the idea of connecting with family, friends and neighbours. Over the years I have observed many Christmases in different places and lands and I have listened to some very sad stories about people’s inability to connect because of lack of forgiveness.
There is something sad about being disconnected and Christmas time seems to highlight this perhaps more than any other time in the year.
It’s hard for me to understand people being estranged from one another, not speaking, not being in touch for years, having no connection with people with whom they once shared life.
Christmas is one of those seasons where we can seem caught up in a tug-of-war between feeling the joy of being truly connected and feeling the pain of disconnection.
The message of Christmas is one of God connecting with us. In 2 Corinthians 5 verse 19 we read: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” To be reconciled is to be restored to friendship or harmony. At Christmas we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world enabling us to connect with God.
Our prayer is for those who are disconnected at this Christmas time.
James Condon, Commissioner Floyd Tidd, Commissioner
The Salvation Army The Salvation Army
Australia Eastern Territory Australia Southern Territory
Uniting Church in Australia
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). Jesus was born in very “dark” times. The people suffered under a brutal Roman occupation. Injustice and random violence were commonplace. Many were very poor. They lacked capable leadership. They were divided amongst themselves. They “walked in darkness”. By the time the Gospels were written down, a generation later, things had only become worse. The birth of Christ was proclaimed as a beacon of hope in seemingly hopeless times: God has remembered us. The Saviour is born.
The message of Christmas is still addressed to people going through times of “darkness”: God has not forgotten you and, even now in the darkest moment, God is initiating your salvation.
This Christmas I invite you to remember all who “walk in darkness” – especially Australia’s First Peoples, who continue to miss out on sharing the benefits of this wealthy nation; asylum seekers and refugees living in our communities and held in detention, still searching for safety and freedom; our sisters and brothers in the Middle East experiencing the terrors of war, civil unrest and political violence. And remember that the message of Christmas is for you too, in your own time of “darkness”: God remembers you, loves you, and is saving you.
The Reverend Professor Andrew Dutney, President
Uniting Church in Australia