Celebrating the birthday of Christ

Auckland church leaders offer their thoughts for this Christmas.

Bishop Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland

Some months ago, the professor of art history at some English university wrote a challenging piece. She had been looking at nativity scenes from different periods when one student asked why the baby in such paintings was always a boy. It was a reasonable question from someone who had no familiarity with the Christmas story.

What the professor found sobering was that none of her other students could answer the question.

Christmas celebrates the birthday of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem. The earliest accounts are to be found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Most countries follow a calendar that uses the reputed year of his birth as the touchstone by which history is recorded. We date people and events as either BC [Before Christ], or AD [Anno Domini, In the year of the Lord]. Even this simple fact highlights the significance of the birth we are celebrating.

In his Christmas poem, Sir John Betjeman asks the key question.

And is it true? And is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea,
Become a child on earth for me?
Because if it is ...

No love that in a family dwells
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single truth compare,
That God was Man in Palestine ...

Christians believe that God has visited the human race in a most unique manner in the person of Jesus Christ. Two important consequences follow.

Firstly, we see all human life as precious. Our society often fears children, just as King Herod feared the infant Jesus and tried to destroy him. The Christmas story suggests that every child is potentially a child of promise who in unique ways will reflect the beauty of God and enrich our world and our families with his or her gifts.

Secondly, we see our physical world as sacred and loved by God - so we do need to treat it with respect.

* * *

Ross Bay, Vicar General of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland

The birth of Jesus is God's radical intervention in the world's affairs in order to bring about the transformation of all things. Much expectation about the coming of a saviour existed among people in the time of Jesus himself. The Magnificat gives us some insight into God's expectations. It was Mary's song at the time she learned she was to be the mother of the child. She sings of God's plans to turn the world upside down, putting down the mighty and exalting the humble, filling the hungry and sending away the rich. It speaks of a God who in Jesus comes to set things right in the world. And God begins this work by calling that young woman of no human account to bear the child.

A youngster in a church nativity play ended up with the role of Mary, having not really wanted the part. But her reflection was that "someone had to do it". That remains the case as the Christmas message continues to work itself out today. We are the "someones" through whom God's justice-making ways are fulfilled.

* * *

Heather Rodwell, Divisional Commander of the Salvation Army

As we are immersed within this Christmas season, 2009 comes rapidly to an end. It's been a year of economic uncertainty; community volatility and times of personal instability for many. But in the celebration of Christmas we receive an invitation to enter into a counter-attack on those things which have attacked us. We can choose generosity over self-indulgence; engagement over remoteness; belief over despair. Thankfully many of us do.

It is through the generosity of others that we at the Salvation Army, among others, can give generously to people who face hardship and thereby provide a way in which they too can enter into the celebration. Thank you for your generosity which allowed us to meet unprecedented demand throughout this year. In choosing engagement over remote concern, and by believing change and transformation is possible, something holy is happening in our world.

It was a holy night a couple of millennia ago that escaped the attention of the mainstream at the time. But this single event has changed the course of history. The birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remains as an enduring sign from God who also chooses generosity over self-indulgence, engagement over remoteness and belief over despair. I suggest to you that as we pattern ourselves in living this way, we participate in something far more magnificent than we are aware. We participate in God's plan to restore this world to its created purpose.

Perhaps during these times of preparation and celebration you'll spare a moment to recall the account of the Christmas story which tells of God entering our world as a human baby. "God with flesh on" we sometimes refer to it as. And in the vulnerability seen in a newborn child, you'll capture a sense of the wonder of God's willingness to enter into our vulnerability.

As a nation we've faced our vulnerability in 2009. Whatever our personal experience of life's harshest lessons have been this year, I pray that you will find hope and reason to believe again because of the gift from God in Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

May peace, joy and love be yours in abundance.

* * *

Pastor Colin Hopkins, Auckland Baptist Churches

As Christmas 2009 approaches, we are drawn to reflecting back on the year just been. And yet as we skip through the big news events that have dominated our newspapers, television sets and computer screens, we realise that for many it has been a year of devastation, loss and despair. We may find ourselves asking where the message of hope, peace and goodwill fits in this Christmas.

In a world that appears to only shadow pain and suffering, it is so hard to find the glimpses of positives that surround us. The everyday miracles that we overlook among the Christmas chaos. The newborn baby, the first strawberry of the season, the soldier returning home, the recovering alcoholic, the graduating student.

And yet, even if your eyes are open enough to see those small miracles, are your eyes open enough this Christmas to see the miracle that is Christmas? Are your eyes open enough to find the manger in the mall or the king in K-mart? Are your eyes open enough to see Jesus?

This Christmas, everything is put in place. The stockings are hung, the table is set, the tree is standing, tinsel and decorations, and the star is placed neatly on top. Where is Jesus placed in your household this Christmas?

In the midst of the Christmas and holiday frenzy, we invite you to look beyond the chaos, beyond Santa, beyond your New Year resolutions, to look inside the manger and catch a glimpse of God whose gift is hope; the hope of peace and goodwill, of beauty and unconditional love.

* * *

Rev Andrew Norton, Moderator of the Auckland Presbytery

With the Christmas party season in full swing, pause for a moment and reflect on the ins and outs of Christmas.

Who's invited and who's not invited to your Christmas party this year?

Who's in and who's out?

Who's going to be offended if left off this year's list?

What about you? On whose list did you make the cut (or not)?

Spare a thought for the ins and outs of the first Christmas.

The ins:

A pregnant teenager and fiance, some foreigners (probably of a different religion), shepherds and angels.

And that's about it!

What a strange list.

I'm sure many more were invited but they were too busy and forgot to RSVP.

The outs:

The political leaders; Herod was expressly not invited!

The religious leaders; their absence speaks volumes.

The media; newspapers seldom publish good news stories.

Family; read between the lines of the original story, Joseph was returning to his home town and yet there was no room for them. Had even their own family rejected them?

So when God throws a Christmas party, are you on the invite list?

Read your invitation once again:

"Don't be afraid, I'm here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: a Saviour has just been born in David's town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. This is what you are to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger." Luke 2:10-12

The Message

Everybody worldwide!

The good news is that you have made God's list.

All you need to do is turn up.

* * *

Alan Upson, President of the Methodist Church of New Zealand

Half-full, half-empty might have some thinking of a glass of wine. Another half a glass might be too much for the breathalyser. But is there such a thing as a half-full or half-empty Christmas? Who would want half a Christmas? Yet it's common for people to feel something is missing at Christmas time. It's like being at a party and wanting to be somewhere else.

So what makes a full Christmas? Some say "children". Grandparents just love watching the children but many say it's good to go home afterwards. Parents, watching runaway behaviour may long for the exhaustion that follows the tears. On Christmas Day it can be full-on but still half-empty.

So what makes it feel half-empty when the presents are all opened, the family have gone, and the children are asleep? The presents were good. There were good jokes, good conversations, good friends, a good time, good place, good food, good music. But was there something still missing?

Behind all the stories of angels, shepherds, wise men, and Mary and Joseph is the God who feels half empty without you or I. Emmanuel, God with us.

You touch this God in a quiet moment when watching the changing sunset. But you might not notice the same God present when passing a gift to the child you love. Or sense this God being present like someone being right beside you when you know they are far away.

Christmas can contain that sense of being at peace with the family and friends. The Christmas child is a sign of belonging with all that is, all that ever will be. That belonging is like having enough and not needing any more. Not half-full. Not half-empty. This time round, may your Christmas include that kind of fullness.

- NZ Herald

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