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Happy Christmas, from the leaders of Australian Churches

CHRISTMAS MESSAGES
Friday 25 December 2015

Floyd Tidd and James Condon, Commissioners, Salvation Army
Keith Jobberns, National Ministries Director, Australian Baptist Ministries
Denis J. Hart, President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Philip Freier, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Australia
Stuart McMillan, President, Uniting Church in Australia
Anba Daniel, Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church
Joe Goodall, Moderator, Congregational Federation of Australia and New Zealand
Stylianos Harkianakis, Primate, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Janet Woodlock, Federal Coordinator, Churches of Christ in Australia
James Kwang, Bishop, Chinese Methodist Church in Australia
Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Indian Orthodox Church
Greg Clarke, CEO, Bible Society Australia
Keith Garner, CEO, Wesley Mission
Glenn Davies, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Sydney

Floyd Tidd and James Condon, Commissioners, Salvation Army

There is light for the journey! This is the message of Christmas.

The words of Isaiah are a welcomed and relevant message these centuries later; “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Throughout the Christmas season, lights adorn trees, rooflines, and wreaths – a visual reminder that the Light of the World has been born. As Isaiah had prophesied, the birth of Jesus, born of a virgin, would bring light to those walking in darkness.

There are however, those in our world, our country and our own neighbourhoods who yet walk in darkness. This message of Light is still desperately needed.

There are however, those in our world, our country and our own neighbourhoods who yet walk in darkness. This message of Light is still desperately needed. The declaration of John in his prologue is the message that rings out once again this Christmas – “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” There is light for the journey! Light that cannot be overcome by darkness.

Martin Luther King Jr has been quoted once again in recent weeks reminding us all that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” We celebrate, Jesus; the Light of the World, born to drive out the darkness. He invites those who once walked in darkness to now be bearers of the Light that transforms the darkness. The Salvation Army is grateful for the support of so many across Australia who support and partner with us in sharing light and hope.

Throughout this Christmas season and into the years ahead, it is our prayer that you will know and walk in the Light of Christ and reflect his light to those around you.
May you experience the gift of Faith, the blessing of Hope and the Peace of His Love this Christmas and always.

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Keith Jobberns, National Ministries Director, Australian Baptist Ministries

It is a puzzle isn’t it? Why do the carols by candlelight events attract such crowds? Or to say it another way, why do people who show little inclination to be associated with formal religion enjoy attending Christmas Carol events? After all, the songs are primarily expressions of gratitude to God the Father for the birth of His son Jesus. What it is that engenders a desire to participate in such an overtly spiritual event?

It is difficult to point to one primary reason. Yes it is a fun community activity and yes the kids do enjoy it. And yes the ubiquitous fireworks are extraordinary. And it is a nice tradition.

Deep in our hearts is the longing for the Divine, for the wonder of the mystery that is God, for the hope that there is a divine plan that will finally override the chaos of our anxiety plagued world.

However one wonders if there isn’t a small niggling in the psyche of attendees of the unfamiliar desire to get touch with the great Other. Is there, even in the most cynical of us a quest for something beyond ourselves; something beyond our own manipulative and controlling tendencies? The quest for something “bigger than all of this”?

If this is the case, then God certainly knows how to cater for a desire of the mystique. The drama, danger and dreams, intrigue and miracles that accompanied the first Christmas do catch the imagination. The notion that the infinite God would choose to reveal himself in the life of a vulnerable baby almost beggars belief. But that is what the songs ring out at each Christmas carol event.

Is this why we go to the Carols in the park? Deep in our hearts is the longing for the Divine, for the wonder of the mystery that is God, for the hope that there is a divine plan that will finally override the chaos of our anxiety plagued world. That in the midst of the gloom there is a ray of light.

John in his Gospel in the Bible sees it that way when he writes about the coming of Jesus…in him was life and that life was the light of mankind. (John chapter 1:4)

The invitation offered to the shepherds who were captured by the mystique in the first Christmas season is repeated every Christmas to us all. Come and experience the hope that fulfils the deep unspoken quest for something that is greater than our own rational construct.

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Denis J. Hart, President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

The recent horrors in Paris, Syria and throughout the Middle East show that our world has changed. The dark, foreboding thrall of possible violence, the struggles of nations and the never-ending lines of refugees underline the suffering which is so present in our human condition. It is not surprising that we become anxious and restless, and even when we do get some peace our wounds and memories are a burden to us.

Christmas is a time of joy because we know there is something more, that God will never desert us.

Yet we sense that there must be something more to life. In the midst of this suffering and confusion the Lord comes to us again as a tiny baby. Pope Francis invites us this Christmas to be still and place ourselves at the Manger of Jesus and to ask ourselves, “Do I really allow God to love me? Do I really have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to me?”

If we spend some time in prayer then we will see the answer that God gives. He came to share our human nature, to make sure that we always had hope. Christmas is a time of joy because we know there is something more, that God will never desert us. The light shines, yes in darkness, but it will never be overpowered, because Jesus of Nazareth, the infant, has come once more to let us hold him in our frail arms and lives. He will teach us the way to true humanity, to see the beauty and dignity of each other, to give us his gift of peace.

May the peace of Jesus shine in your hearts and lives, now and always.

I wish you all a very happy and holy Christmas.

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Philip Freier, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Australia

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Stuart McMillan, President, Uniting Church in Australia

Greetings to you and your loved ones this Christmas from the Uniting Church in Australia.

Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ birth declares: “They will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.” Jesus’ birth is a sign to Christians that God is at work in the world, walking with people, among us in our celebrations of life and in our suffering. Jesus is a sign of hope, and those who follow him are to be signs of that hope, bearers of light and love. We are called to walk with, sit with, cry with, laugh with, work alongside and listen attentively to others in their times of need and of celebration, just as Jesus did.

This year in the Middle East, Uniting Church ministers have walked alongside the Palestinian people as part of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel.

In a place of unending conflict and distress we have tried to be a sign of hope.

Sometimes the greatest gift you can give to another human being is to be present for them, in this we discover we are not abandoned or alone, and we discover afresh we are truly loved.

First Australians in our Church have invited us the second peoples to walk with them, to listen attentively and to share stories of God. We are also enriched by the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian community. Our Church seeks to provide what we call a “space for grace”, making space for God and space for others whose cultural understandings may be different to our own.

At this time of year though, our hearts go first to those suffering pain and loss. Across the world people are fleeing persecution in record numbers, in Syria and Iraq, in the South Sudan and across Europe where more than three-quarters of a million people are seeking refuge as winter sets in. Many refugees continue to face unbearable situations, including – to our shame – in Australian Government detention centres. Please spare a thought for these people at this time.

Many of you have loved ones at home who are suffering in their own way – from mental or physical illness or disability. Others face religious intolerance, racial abuse, domestic violence.

While we often describe Christmas as a season of giving there are so many who need to receive support and reassurance. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give to another human being is to be present for them, in this we discover we are not abandoned or alone, and we discover afresh we are truly loved.

This Christmas and into the New Year I ask people of all faiths and none to be signs of hope in the world. Let us be present for one another in such a way that there are no strangers, that all people will experience welcome and know that they are valued and loved, for this is God’s grace through Jesus shared among us. On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia may the peace of God be with you.

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Anba Daniel, Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church

“Do not be afraid, I bring you good tidings and great joy.” (Luke 2:10).

It is our pleasure to wish all of you a blessed and joyful Feast of the Nativity, the birth of Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer.

Christ came to our world to remove fear from our hearts and grant us His peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

May Christ our Lord, born in Bethlehem, bless our beloved country Australia, fill us with inner peace, comfort and joy.

Christ came to cure the main cause of fear in human life, which is separation of man from God. Man was alienated from God but became a son of God only through the Incarnation of Christ, “But now in Christ Jesus”, says Paul, “you, who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for He Himself is our peace who made both one.” (Ephesians 2:13-14).

Despite the fear and anxiety that prevails in the world, we look unto the Saviour of the world who said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), to dispel fear from our lives, society and world.

We pray for all people around the globe, inflamed with war, violence and terrorism, particularly the people of Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and France. Christ came to heal and restore broken humanity.

May Christ our Lord, born in Bethlehem, bless our beloved country Australia, fill us with inner peace, comfort and joy.

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Joe Goodall, Moderator, Congregational Federation of Australia and New Zealand

Our Christmas traditions largely come from Western Europe, where Christmas falls in the depths of what can be a bitter mid-Winter, where pre-industrial communities were trapped, isolated, by impassable roads and deadly cold. Days were short and dull. Nights were long and dark. And then, like a flash of light, came the season of Christmas. It wasn’t the couple of days we celebrate now, but a couple of weeks of parties and celebrations, culminating in Twelfth Night when the “world turned upside-down”. It is remarkable that in all that gloom, people found something to celebrate.

Of course, as the rather dour Puritans of the Reformation pointed out, there was not much that was Christian in all these celebrations. So the idea that the Christian Christmas has been hijacked is not new.

May Christians give the gifts of joy and hope at Christmas to all people. May we all be able to stop and think of the good things we have, no matter how many gloomy shadows surround us.

On the other hand, the winter of despair has not passed. Here where we live there may be blazing sunshine, but our hearts may be living in a winter. It may be a winter of the fear of religious conflict, a divided community, natural disaster or personal grief.

Like our northern European ancestors, we could do with a shot of joy when times are hard. We need to relieve ourselves of the burdens on our shoulders for a while, to forget the cold and the gloom. We need to eat and give presents, decorate our homes and welcome guests. None of this will drive the shadows away, but it will make us more capable of dealing with them. Let’s not underestimate the importance of celebration in our lives.

For Christians celebrating the birth of Christ the Savour the celebration is particularly potent. As Phillips Brooks wrote in O Little Town of Bethlehem: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

May Christians give the gifts of joy and hope at Christmas to all people. May we all be able to stop and think of the good things we have, no matter how many gloomy shadows surround us. May we all use the pause that Christmas brings to revitalise ourselves ready to face the challenges in our lives, no matter what they are.

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Stylianos Harkianakis, Primate, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia

As we celebrate Christmas once again this year, in other words the Mystery of the Incarnation of God the Word (Logos), we are invited to approach God as Infant in the manger with humility and gratitude, in order that we might experience “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7), the peace of God “which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

Humility is imperative here because it relates to the “great Mystery of godliness”, as the Apostle Paul preaches with devoutness (1 Tim. 3:16).

Gratitude is also self-understood, because this Mystery concerns the human person directly; every human who was created “in the image of God” in order to approach “the likeness of God” (see Genesis 1:26).

If the Incarnation of God the Word, for St Paul, constitutes the great Mystery of godliness, for St John the Evangelist this Mystery is illumined by the abundant light of God’s love, which is the only cause and source of Creation and the salvation of the world and humanity.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn.3:16)

Having now identified the Love of God as the preeminent cause of the divine Incarnation, we must not forget that this Love has two characteristic features which distinguish it from any other meaning of love.

It is primarily general in that it is directed to “every person who comes into the world”, and secondly, it is unreturnable, in that it does not presuppose some exchange, but is offered free. For this reason, it is called Grace, because it is offered as a gift to every person, so long as one does not reject it, denying the gift.

St Maximus the Confessor who was the most mystical and profound Theologian of Byzantium says to us that, just as Mary the Theotokos gestated God the Word by the Holy Spirit, in the same way, every faithful is able to “gestate” the Word of God, becoming one’s self a “God-bearer” and a “Christ-bearer”.

However, as much as this teaching of St Maximus might sound irreverent, even “blasphemous”, we should recall that centuries before him St Paul had preached to all the nations that unprecedented point of his theology, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

Of course, it is not only St. Maximus who consistently insisted on this experiential character of Christian theology. Other Fathers of the Ancient Church called the Incarnation of God the Word a “Second Creation”, as for example, St Athanasius who taught explicitly that “God became human so that we might become god by grace” and that “He became poor, that we might become rich by his grace”.

In concluding, we are able to say that the “theology”, not only of Paul, but also of Peter and John, is an extended and precise consequence of the New Testament teaching with regard to Grace, which also constitutes the “fullness” of God’s salvific Truth in the history of humankind.

Furthermore, we are able to comprehend even more clearly the deeper meaning of this “fullness” from the epigrammatic words of John “for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

To God the Word, who became Incarnate for all people, be glory and honour and worship to all ages. Amen!

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Janet Woodlock, Federal Coordinator, Churches of Christ in Australia

Luke records the message of the angels at the time of the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”

God’s plan for peace on Earth seemed like folly: a helpless and vulnerable baby, whose family was forced to flee their country in fear for his life. When this baby grew into a man he did not establish a kingdom by force; instead he established a relay of love.

God’s plan for peace on Earth seemed like folly: a helpless and vulnerable baby, whose family was forced to flee their country in fear for his life. When this baby grew into a man he did not establish a kingdom by force; instead he established a relay of love. Those who were touched most deeply by his life fed the poor, cared for the sick, and shared a message of hope and new life. This flame of love passed from one soul to another, like a candle lighting ceremony on a breathtaking scale. Within a few centuries, a small number of people began a revolution: literally millions of people became followers of this Way, this Person, this Light, this Love.

Receiving and relaying love changes the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that can bring true peace on Earth. May you and your families receive and share this love this Christmas time.

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James Kwang, Bishop, Chinese Methodist Church in Australia

When the angels announced the birth of our Lord Jesus, they proclaimed this message from heaven, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). True and lasting peace belongs to us only when our aim in life is to glorify God and please Him.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, let us as the chosen people of God take up our roles seriously to be God’s ambassadors of peace and reconciliation.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, let us as the chosen people of God take up our roles seriously to be God’s ambassadors of peace and reconciliation. It is certainly our Christian duty, but also our honour as God’s children, to call upon the people of our desperately broken and divided world back to God, back to our purpose of glorifying God in all we say or do. We cannot gain lasting peace simply by winning wars! We recognize that the Son of God brought peace to us at a terrible cost to himself, by dying on the cross for our sins and reconciling God to us in his own body. Only when we have peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins can we have peace with each other. Only when we enter into the New Covenant to live by the holy example and grace of the Lord Jesus can we live a life that is pleasing to God and a blessing to one another. Let us proclaim this gospel message with our lips and also with our loving action and holy lifestyle.

Wish all of you have a Merry Christmas and a Meaningful New Year!

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Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Indian Orthodox Church

Advent greetings!

Christmas time is on its way, bringing the good tidings to all of us. Heaven and earth are ready to celebrate the birthday of their King. It is the time to cherish peace and goodwill and to be plenteous in mercy. May our heart be lifted in praise for the wonderful gift of Jesus and the joy He brings to our lives.

The dream of each and every human being is to grow into the likeness of God – divinization. This dream is realized not through our greatness but through the love and humility of God. God humbled himself to our humanity so that we may be raised to His divinity. Gregory of Nyssa states, “God takes on the poverty of my flesh so that I may receive the riches of his godhead”. The birth of Jesus in our hearts marks the starting point of the process of divinization in our lives. Through Scripture reading, meditation and Prayer, we can decorate our hearts to be the manger where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place.

We live in a world of increasing fears – fear of terrorism, fear of religious intolerance, fear of war and fear of economic collapse. The recent activities of terror by militant groups such as the Islamic State have given rise to panic and grief all around the world. Men, women and children have suffered and continue to suffer untold hardship, deprivation and death at the hands of terrorists.

The world desperately needs hope in these hard times. Christmas infuses hope, peace and trustful joy into mankind, torn by the anxiety of deep, bitter sorrow. We all should reflect more deeply on the virtues and ideals which Jesus espoused during his ministry on Earth. Peace and love for others were a constant refrain in the Messiah’s teachings and admonitions to humankind. Therefore, as we celebrate birth of Jesus, I urge everyone to offer special prayers for a greater manifestation of divine peace in our World and the vanquishing of all demons of hatred, intolerance and disunity from our midst.

This Advent, may people live in freedom, worshiping as they see fit, loving others. May hunger disappear and terrorists cease their senseless acts. May peace, everlasting peace, reign supreme in this World. We hope that this season ends on a joyful note and continues into a safe and prosperous New Year for all. Sharing with you the Glory, the Wonder and the Miracle of this Holy Season. Have a Blessed Christmas and New Year.

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Greg Clarke, CEO, Bible Society Australia

It has been a joy for all of us at the Bible Society to serve you throughout 2015, and I thank God for the support we have enjoyed from each and every one of you as we work together to circulate and promote the word of God. Our work is more necessary than ever: plenty of people around the world still have little or no access to Scripture.

And here in Australia, many are still shut out from the life-transforming power of God’s word, whether by circumstances or by choice. Our work involves challenging Australians that the Bible is still relevant and true today, as much as it involves reaching those around the world who have never had the opportunity to consider the Bible in a language they understand.

In the midst of wonderful opportunities, this Christmas I feel sober about the global situation in which we do our work. New Testament scholar, Professor Richard Bauckham has written a Christmas poem that brings the millennia-old story of the birth of Christ right up to the doorstep of contemporary Australia. It captures for me the mood in which I celebrate the birth of the Saviour this year.

“He took the child and his mother by night” by Richard Bauckham

This year we have seen them so often,
trudging, intrepid,
one clutching a child
to whom the other’s eyes
at every second step
return, solicitous, alert,
fighting fatigue
for him, their treasured trust.

Week after week we watch
the trudging millions,
dauntless, unstoppable.
Through fire and water they have come,
desperate for hope.
They would walk continents,
batter the gates of every fabled city,
dodge boiling oil and scale the battlements,
shouting, “We too are human!”

Less visible to us
but constant in the tearful gaze of God,
lambs are led to slaughter,
nasrani to the last,
leaves of the lustrous trees of paradise
falling, golden,
into his open arms,
his trusty treasure.

Professor Bauckham’s title is drawn from the Gospel of Matthew where Joseph dreams of an angel warning that he would need to take Mary and the baby Jesus and flee from Bethlehem to Egypt in order to be safe from persecution. Ironically, tragically, today no angel would issue such an instruction.

The world in which Jesus was born was unsafe for the Christ, and it is unsafe for Christians today. Our television screens this past year have flashed image after image of the “trudging millions”, some of them displaced Christians running—literally running—for their lives. These “nasrani” (the ancient Syriac word for Christians, followers of the Nazarene) remain faithful to their Lord even in the midst of terrible persecution, displacement, loss and terror.

In fact, as the poem says, many nasrani are being slaughtered and becoming martyrs of the faith. Of course, we all recall the horrific story and scenes of Christians being beheaded in Egypt earlier this year. Bauckham reminds us that the “trees of Paradise” are beautified by the leaves of martyrs, an uncomfortable image for comfortable Aussie believers.

I’ve lived a very relaxed Christian life, and I know most of us believers in Australia have. I’ve benefitted from our christianised culture, with its high value on caring about the individual, respecting the family, providing support for those in need and aiming for social peace. I’ve never fled for my life. I’ve enjoyed a ‘love your neighbour’ sort of world, even when my neighbour is different to me.

But times have changed. In many places around the world, being a Christian today is starting to look more like it used to look, back in the early decades and centuries after Christ. Is a time coming when Christians have to cry out, “We too are human”?

As we enjoy the feasts and fellowship of Christmas, we must recall what the first Christmas was in fact like. A young family on the run from murderous threats. An ideology opposed to the teachings of the living God. A government increasingly suspicious that Christians are part of the problem, not the solution. Warring militia, slaughtered innocents, an anxious longing for safety and salvation.

In fact, Christmas around the world this year may be more like that first Christmas than ever before. With the nasrani, we depend on knowing that God so loved the world that he entered it in full, in human form, as a dependent baby, that we might truly believe that we are God’s “trusty treasure”. Because the world around us doesn’t see us that way.

With this reality check in place, may you, your family and friends enjoy a peaceful, faithful, joyful and grateful Christmas, remembering our suffering brothers and sisters around the world.

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Keith Garner, CEO, Wesley Mission

Across countless dinner tables this Christmas conversations will no doubt turn to the horror of Paris and the terror attacks here in Australia.

At a time that is normally full of celebration, a shadow of doubt is cast across our security and all that we cherish. We share gifts but eat our Christmas meal with one eye on media and a conscious fear of what is next?

Our families and friends give us strength. Our history and shared values give us unity in the face of anxiety and dismay…and we can also draw an enduring strength from the message of Christmas.

The Christmas story tells us that Jesus was born during a time of great social upheaval and insecurity. The violence and fear we experience today was not unfamiliar to the social and political situation of his time.

His birth was in a stable in humble surroundings. His parents Mary and Joseph fled their homeland fearful of persecution and the murder of their new born. Tyrants ruled the known world. Life was cheap and uncertain.

Nothing much has changed in 2000 years. We still live our lives in uncertain and treacherous times. Life can become challenging when we least expect it – and a situation of calm can soon become very stormy.

The message of Christmas gives us a deep-seated sense of wellbeing and joy.

In the often sombre context of this scenario, God’s amazing love in Jesus Christ can shine through brightly. The message of Christmas gives us a deep-seated sense of wellbeing and joy.

Trials, difficulties and fear can rob us of our joy, but we can keep our heads held high because we rejoice through the power that can come as a result of facing up to what life throws at us. We often view this joy as though it were an experience or an emotion, when in fact it is ‘a decision’.

Each day at Wesley Mission we help people who face up to enormous personal challenges: poverty, homelessness, mental illness, loneliness, fear and family breakdown. These people choose hope and move forward in life. They can teach each of us not only about the power of redemptive love but about how despair can be acknowledged and finally overcome.

No matter how bad things get, God’s presence means that He will be with us and help us. This Christmas, God’s presence will be made real across Wesley Mission’s many programs as we bring food, toys and gifts to disadvantaged families, support the lonely and the aged and give hope to the homeless.

We do this because we know Jesus Christ is the Lord of all history. Nothing ever leaves God bewildered or astonished. Nothing ever catches God by surprise. He is with us now and into the future. From this place of confidence we can love others with peace, purpose and hope in our hearts. We need not fear because Jesus is indeed Immanuel, “God with us”.

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Glenn Davies, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Sydney

As Australians, we love to celebrate Christmas with lights. On Christmas trees, in shopping centres and in suburban houses, we see lights everywhere—nativity scenes aglow and twinkling lights in rhythmic patterns. Even though we are in the height of summer, lights are very much a part of Christmas. It is a wonderful time.

But this year, the world we live in has been overshadowed by darkness. We are appalled at the dark acts committed in Paris, Beirut, San Bernardino and elsewhere. We long for light to dispel the darkness. Yet that is exactly the message of Christmas, when God’s light shone into the world and the darkness did not overcome it.

Just as the Creator declared “Let there be light” and there was light, so God sent Jesus to shine into our darkness. Nothing can compare to the brightness of his star nor outshine his brilliance, no matter how many lights we might create.

Though we see these dark acts and cry out to God, remember this – he has answered with the words of Jesus – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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