Prime Minister John Key, in his speech at the recent memorial service in Greymouth, said, "New Zealanders as a whole are not an overly-religious people and are not given to public outbursts of emotion. But on Friday, November 19, 2010, when the news came through of an explosion in the Pike River mine, New Zealanders - in their own way and in a quiet way - began to pray."
At the time a question was asked: "Do we pray only when there is no hope?"
This is a fair question and it gives rise to an interesting reflection on the place of prayer and faith in our lives, and especially on how we tend to clutch at straws in desperate situations. It is a question about the place of hope in our lives.
Christmas gives rise to a similar reflection.
Regardless of religious belief there is a flickering flame of faith (and the hope that underpins all faith) in the human heart. Whatever our belief or non-belief, we reach towards a higher power when overcome by terrible trauma. Philosophers have explored this phenomenon over the centuries. We know it is the basis for the recovery of addictions such as alcoholism. It is the hope which we all have that beyond the dark moments of our lives, there is light.
"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness".
Christmas, of course, points to something far more complex and mysterious than just the sentiment surrounding the birth of Jesus as described in scripture, with its attendant angels, shepherds, star and wise men.
Its significance can be glimpsed in some words from one of our well-known Christmas carols, O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today.
Jesus, born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, was revealed to us as God entering into our human condition, yet his coming was in the very normal way that every child comes into the world. He was born in Judea, part of an occupied country, whose people were oppressed by their Roman conquerors. His mother was a young woman from a simple Jewish family. His conception and birth took place under mysterious circumstances.
The prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament foretold, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel which means God with us".
We might ask, wasn't God always with the human race? God has always been with creation, but in the person of Jesus, God's presence with us, in a physical sense, takes on a whole new meaning. This is the Creator identifying with our humanness in a sense that we can understand and relate to.
St John in his gospel gave this account of the Christmas mystery - of God's coming to be with us, in these words. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-3, 14). But why, 2000 years later, is the birth of Jesus still celebrated? It is because it was not a one-off event. His birth was a forever moment - as the carol puts it "O holy child of Bethlehem ... be born in us today".
His message of peace and love is timeless, transcending all races and cultures. Jesus himself described the reason for his coming among us in very simple terms: "I have come that you may have life and have it to the full".
What we celebrate at Christmas is that God comes looking for us, to lead us beyond the fear and sin that is part of our human condition. God did not come as a mighty warrior riding on a horse, but as a helpless baby so that he could participate in our humanity in its entirety.
As one of us, Jesus gave us the perfect example of human goodness and integrity of life. As Emmanuel, "God with us" Jesus experienced loneliness, hunger, disappointment, rejection, and injustice, but did not allow these to defeat him.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, calmed the storms and raised the dead, and pointed forwards to the coming kingdom of God where there will be no more sickness, hunger, death, tsunamis or earthquakes, for God will make all things new and will wipe all the tears from our eyes. Jesus revealed to us God whose love and compassion is immeasurable beyond our comprehension, and who seeks our response.
To all of us, and to those who would ask, especially in the dark times, "Where is your God?" we use the words of Jesus himself, when asked where he was from, he answered, "Come and see".
So we go to Bethlehem, and we listen to the message of the angels who announced his birth to the shepherds of Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours". Such a message gives us a sure and certain hope for our lives, our new city, our nation and our world.
May this message of Christmas be in all our hearts and homes, whoever we are, and whatever our circumstance.
* Rev Dr Richard Waugh, national superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand.
* Rev Dr Neville Bartle, national superintendent, Church of the Nazarene.
* Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland.
* Rev Norman Brookes, Auckland Synod superintendent, Methodist Church of New Zealand.
* Pastor Luke Brough, national leader, Elim Churches of New Zealand.
* Pastor Terry Calkin, senior pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre.
* Rev Murray Cottle, regional adviser, Auckland Baptist Churches.
* Pastor Paul de Jong, senior pastor, LIFE.
* Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland.
* Mr Peter Eccles, Auckland district chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand.
* Pastor Ken Harrison, general superintendent, Assemblies of God in New Zealand.
* Pastor Brian Hughes, senior pastor, Calvary Chapel.
* Rev Andrew Marshall, director, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches.
* Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
* Pastor Peter Mortlock, senior pastor, City Impact Church.
* Pastor Bruce Monk, national leader, Acts Churches NZ.
* Rev Andrew Norton, moderator, Auckland Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.
* Pastor Lloyd Rankin, national director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa New Zealand.
* Major Heather Rodwell, divisional commander, the Salvation Army.
* Bishop Brian Tamaki, Destiny Churches.
* Pastor Eddie Tupa'i, president, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church.