"Home For Christmas?!"
The classic Christmas song "I'll be home for Christmas" certainly takes on new significance for many in Auckland this year. It's been another year of disruptions, disappointments, and constant change.
Tāmaki Makaurau has spent 188 days in either alert level 4 or 3 since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020. As Christmas approaches, you might find yourself – understandably – more cautious this year as you dip just your toes into the festivities, for fear of another disappointment or disruption.
Amidst all this, it's easy to ask "what difference does Christmas really make in a world facing a pandemic, and such turmoil?" Why do Christians celebrate an event that occurred over 2000 years ago? How could an event that occurred in a remote village called Bethlehem 16,287 km away from Auckland be relevant and significant to what we're facing in our lives and our city, today?
But the first Christmas was certainly not immune from disruption and disappointment. The coming of Jesus that first Christmas was likewise to a world pining for renewal, joy, and freedom.
While there was talk at that time of "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace), such peace and prosperity were enjoyed only by the upper echelons of society, those who had Roman citizenship. Others often faced social and ethnic segregation, poverty, or oppression. 9 out of 10 persons were living hand to mouth. About one-third of people in cities like Rome were slaves. If you were female, you certainly didn't have many rights. Political turmoil and oppression were common. Even Herod, who was appointed by Rome as king of Judea, was prepared to do anything to keep his power. It was a time where most people were doing it tough, longing for connections across cultural disparities and racial divides. It was a world facing disappointment.
To such a world, an angel announced: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David [Bethlehem] a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11 (NIV)
That baby was Jesus. Our very calendars are measured by events that occur before and after his birth (BC/AD) because Christians believe that through his life, death, and resurrection the way we see life has changed. Christians believe that the baby lying in a manger 2000 years ago was none other than God incarnate: God made human. As such, we find four precious gifts in this Christmas story – love, peace, joy and hope.
Christmas: A celebration of love
In the Christmas story, Jesus is love embodied, descending from heaven. Christians believe that the very One who created love, came down because of love. He came to bring people into a new family (collectively called the Church) that is both inclusive and diverse. It includes people from many different countries, cultures, post-codes, backgrounds, and personalities. Its generational spread includes children, youth, millennials, and boomers. It includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated. Jesus created a place where everyone can belong.
Christmas: A celebration of peace
Reminded of the words spoken by the angel that first Christmas Eve - "Don't be afraid!" – Christians declare that we have absolutely no reason to fear. This peace is not the cessation of difficulty. Christian peace is a reversal of fear, and it comes with the confidence of knowing that the God who made the world and entered it as a human baby will not abandon this world, or our country, or our families, or ourselves.
Christmas: A celebration of joy
Along with peace, the angel announced "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people…" That phrase 'good news' (or 'gospel') – was a common word of the time to refer to the good things the Roman Emperor was doing for the country – the Roman peace, roads, and citizenship. But, this so-called "good news" was purchased through violence and fear. And it was given to just a select few.
The good news that Jesus brings is the coming of a better king and a better kingdom; news of a world where cruelty and pride give way to service and humility. A world where power games are replaced with questions like, 'how can I help you?'
Christmas: a celebration of hope
Christmas hope is not built around an idea but around a person – Jesus. Christians believe that the baby born that night in the little town of Bethlehem was none other than "Emmanuel" meaning "God with us". He made his home among us so that we can find a genuine sense of 'home' with him. It means that a relationship with God is possible in the here and now.
This means that a person does not need access to a temple or sacred building to meet with God. Neither do they need to be in a special church service, or church building. Rather, they can connect with the Creator right where they are, anywhere at all. All this is possible because of the coming of Jesus.
The simplicity of "God with us" should be especially significant this year. Yes, church services will be different with COVID restrictions: some will gather and sing carols at one of multiple gatherings, some will be online, and others will gather with family, friends and neighbours in homes across the land. But wherever we are and however we are gathering, we can join with millions of people all over the world and across every continent, who will stop what they are doing and remember the birth of a Saviour. It is this story, and the hope of the gospel, that has been remembered over the years amidst wars, political instability, and a variety of pandemics.
From year to year, regardless of what was happening around them, Christians from one generation to another have found these four precious gifts in this Christmas story – love, peace, joy, and hope. This is why, in the words of the classic carol "O Holy Night", a "weary world rejoices".
We'd love to welcome you to a Christmas gathering this Christmas – in person, online, or in homes across our city – to share with you this incomparable hope. We know the difference it can make to every person, to every context, and to every whānau. On behalf of church leaders across Auckland city, Meri Kirihimete, Manuia le Kerisimasi, Kilisimasi Fiefia, Marau na Kerisimasi, Shèngdàn Kuàilè, Merry Christmas in whatever language you are blessed with by God.
•Reti Ah-Voa, Regional Leader, Northern Baptist Association
•Rev. Paul and Pam Allen-Baines, Congregational Union of N.Z.
•Rt. Rev. Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland
•Pastor Tak Bhana, Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
•Pastors Paul and Maree de Jong, Senior Pastors, LIFE
•Pastors Brent and Patricia Douglas, Senior Pastors, Encounter Church
•Pastors Jonathan and Robyn Dove, Senior Pastors, Gracecity Church (formerly Greenlane Christian Centre)
•Ven Dr Lyndon Drake, Anglican Archdeacon of Tāmaki Makaurau
•Most Rev. Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland
•Majors Ian and Liz Gainsford, Northern Divisional Leaders, Salvation Army
•Darren and Sharon Gammie, National Secretary, Assemblies of God NZ
•Most Rev Michael Gielen, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Auckland
•Rev. Jonny Grant, Vicar, St Paul's Symonds Street
•Pastors Steve and Rebecca Green, Senior Pastors, Elim Christian Centre
•Charles Hewlett, National Leader, Baptist Churches of NZ
•Dr. Richard Fountain, on behalf of the Christian Community Churches NZ in Auckland
•Rev. Brett Jones, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
•Pastor Sanjai Kandregula, Executive Member, Assemblies of God NZ
•Rev. Atu Lagi, Assistant National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
•Rev. Dr Stuart Lange, National Director, NZ Christian Network
•Pastor Bob Larsen, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
•Rev. Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association
•Pastor Matt Lilly, Lead Pastor, Coast Vineyard
•Rev. Dr. Featunai Liuaana, Senior Pastor, Congregational Christian Church Samoa (EFKS)
•Pastor David and Lissie MacGregor, National Directors of the NZ Vineyard Churches
•Ben Mai, Manager, Auckland Church Leaders
•Rev. Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
•Rev. Craig Millar, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
•Very Rev. Anne Mills, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
•Pastor Bruce Monk, International Overseer for Acts Churches & Equippers
•Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church & Acts National Leader
•Pastors Peter and Bev Mortlock, Senior Pastors, City Impact Church
•Pastor Peter Morton, Senior Pastor, The River Church
•Pastor Reuben Munn, Senior Pastor, Shore Community Church
•Rt. Rev. Te Kitohi Pikaahu, Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau
•Pastors Lui and Ane Ponifasio, Senior Pastors, Life Church
•Pastor Boyd and Sharon Ratnaraja, National Leaders, Elim Churches
•Pastors Dean and Fiona Rush, Senior Leaders, C3 Church Auckland
•Co-Pastors, Dan and Gabrielle Sheed & Rob and Alisha Wiseman - Central Vineyard
•Pastor Anahina Sikalu, Senior Pastor, Connect City Church
•Apostle Brian and Pastor Hannah Tamaki, Destiny Churches International
•Pastors Richard and Chrissie Urbahn, Senior Pastors, Every Nation Auckland City
•Pastor Jaques van Wyk, Senior Pastor, Doxa Deo Church
•Pastor Jordan Walsh, Lead Pastor, Calvary Auckland
•Rev. Graeme R. White, Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of NZ