'Find your home with Jesus' and other Christmas messages
The Most Reverend Kanishka Raffel, Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney
Find your home with Jesus
“How are you feeling about the 2020s?” asks the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, in his 2022 Christmas message.
“100 years ago, our nation was entering the Roaring 20s. Today we might call it the Raw 20s, with so much raw pain in the world.”
Archbishop Raffel said that in the third COVID Christmas, many people are feeling the pressure of the rising cost of living and whole communities have been displaced by flooding. He mentions the millions who have fled the war in Ukraine and says the disruption of the past three years “has just left many of us feeling out of place”.
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“Jesus knows about the disruptions of ordinary life. He left his place beside God the father to be born among us and born into a displaced human family. Jesus said: Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; I am going there to prepare a place for you. So, wherever the Raw 20s has taken you so far, Christmas invites us to find our home with Jesus.”
Pastor Wayne Alcorn, National President, Australian Christian Churches (ACC)
Hope has a name
In a world that seems to be able to access anything at any time, there seems to be one commodity that so many people lack. Hope.
A constant stream of news about wars, natural disasters, inflation, and the cost of living can cause a sense of hopelessness to erode our expectation for the future. For many families, this Christmas season can look bleak.
Turn your thoughts to the first Christmas, to a baby born in unimpressive surroundings in a nondescript town called Bethlehem. Life was tough under the oppression of Roman occupation and heavy taxes. In such dark times came a message of good news that continues to bring great joy to all humanity.
Every year we celebrate Christmas by feasting with family and friends, and giving gifts to those we love. Yet may we remember that the spirit of Christmas goes beyond the circumstances we find ourselves in.
The greatest gift of all is the reason for the season: an expression of the extravagant love of God, given to mankind with the expressed desire of bringing them hope. God gave us His Son.
The message of Christmas is simple: Hope has a name – and that name is Jesus.
The Bible reminds us of this truth. ‘In His name the nations will put their hope.’ (Matthew 12:21 NIV)
Our prayer for the people of our community this year is that, in the midst of an ever-changing, sometimes chaotic world, hearts will open to receive the hope in Jesus. May His hope fill you with love, joy and peace this Christmas.
Grant Thomson, CEO Bible Society Australia
The fruits of 2022 and the reason for this season
The lead-up to Christmas means that we’re bringing another year to a close. There has been so much going on here at Bible Society Australia! It’s exciting and we’re really thrilled about what God has enabled us to do this year, along with the help of our supporters.
Overseas, Bible Society projects have borne fruit in Bible distribution, capacity building and advocacy work. We’ve seen amazing opportunities taken to help people engage with God’s word through Trauma Healing courses and Literacy classes. Closer to home, we’ve seen the Oceania Alliance take shape, a ‘Jesus. All About Life’ campaign, and the expansion of mission here in Australia through Eternity, the Centre for Public Christianity and Acorn Press. Our remote and Indigenous ministry support team have created and distributed Bible resources to bless our First Nations brothers and sisters, and great steps forward have been taken in Bible translation, including Oral Bible translation. God has been opening doors for us in all areas.
Now, it’s time to look towards 2023. We’re full of vision. We want to make an impact for the kingdom. We’re excited about the steps we’re going to be taking next year. This is not just us, the team here at Bible Society. This is us and you together, in Kingdom Partnership. The apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians reflect how I feel, where he says,
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
I hope that this Christmas you’re able to take time to consider the reason for this season, which is Jesus and the hope we have in him. Blessings to you and Merry Christmas.
The Most Reverend Timothy Costelloe SDB, Archbishop of Perth and President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace, Hail, the Son of Righteousness
These words from a popular Christmas Carol, so familiar to us, capture both the hope and the challenge of Christmas, especially this year as we watch with horror as the war in Ukraine wreaks such devastation and inflicts so much suffering. As people of faith, we continue to hope and pray for peace in Ukraine, and in so many other parts of our world, which are engulfed by violence and conflict at this time.
We also recognise, again as people of faith, that to hope for peace and to pray for peace is not enough. We must also work for peace. We are, after all, disciples of the one who said, “How blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt 5:9).
We may well feel powerless to do anything to bring peace to Ukraine or to other places where conflict rages. It is understandable to feel this way but it is not quite true. We can and must pray continually asking the Lord to replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. We can certainly contribute through our generosity to those who are working to relieve the suffering of so many people around the world. But we can also recognise that in the mystery of human solidarity the darkness which has taken hold of those who wage war can also take hold of our hearts. We can, and often do, inflict violence on those around us: the violence of rejection; the violence of unforgiveness; the violence of coercion and domination; the violence of blindness and insensitivity to those in need. The call to be a peacemaker is really an invitation to each of us to reflect on the quality of our relationships with those closest to us, both emotionally and physically.
This Christmas, as we do, indeed, “hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace” perhaps the best gift we can give in recognition of God’s self-gift to us in Jesus is the gift of forgiveness, the gift of compassion, the generous gift of our best self to those we love and all those we meet. May we all have a happy and holy Christmas, and bring that happiness and holiness to others.
Rev. Dr. Rob Nyhuis, National Chair, Churches of Christ Council in Australia
Jesus was born to bring freedom
In the 1998 film, The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays an actor trapped in a movie set of his life, unaware that every scene has been staged from his birth.
His need for freedom is like ours, where we become caught up in a giant set of the movie of a life we did not plan, one we cannot fully comprehend. It traps us in a deception tied to the self-absorption so prevalent in our culture. This keeps us bound and unavoidably incapable of finding and pursuing genuine release without the Christmas gift of God’s intervention.
Of course, we reflect in limited measure the attributes of our Creator, being capable of the love, grace and compassion so evident around us at Christmas. These are, however, traits which are inevitably displayed imperfectly. We remain ultimately incapable of true freedom without the transforming power of God entering our world 2000 years ago.
The coming of Jesus was as sinless deity. He was therefore capable of dying for our wrongdoings and shortcomings. He also became human to qualify as a like-for-like substitute. Therefore, it is only by accepting his conquest of death three days after his crucifixion that any of us could ultimately enjoy the provision of abundant life that he offers through the events of Christmas.
This life is a gift, freely given and undeserved, and God is its matchless giver.
Only when we choose to accept it for ourselves and to live in its power can we truly find freedom and a relationship with God eternal.
May you and your family be richly blessed this Christmas as you revel in that gift and the freedom that it continues to provide.
Janine and Robert Donaldson, Commissioners, The Salvation Army, Australia Territory
As we enter this Christmas season, it occurs to me again that we so easily default to a romanticised picture of the Christmas Story. As I look at a Christmas card with a picturesque drawing of the manger scene; the contentment and ease of Mary and Joseph, the animals, the other visitors, and of course the baby Jesus resting easily in the hay; and as I sing, “But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”, I settle into this memory of the happiness of times past and the desire for everything to be as peaceful as that first Christmas day.
It is a challenge for us each to go back to Scripture and hear again the message of the gospel writers as they share the hope of a real Messiah, in a real place and in very real circumstances. It is a challenge for us to imagine what Mary and Joseph and the other participants really felt and experienced in the days of the first Christmas. It is a challenge for us to recognise that during the ordinary days, the difficult days, the vulnerable, even fearful days, in the harshness as well as in our happiness that God’s great Salvation plan is shaping all things.
May we expect again this Christmas to be surprised by God at work through the reality of our world, and may God give us again a fresh revelation of all He is and all that we can be in Christ.
Rev. Mark Wilson, National Ministries Director, Australian Baptist Ministries
Let’s be real for a moment. Life isn’t always a bed of roses. In fact, at times it can be brutal.
It is often in these tough times when true friends reveal themselves. They stay connected through the tough times and the good times. They are dependable. They are with you to support you, inspire you and sometimes they are there to pick up the pieces. You can’t put a value on friends like these.
Christmas is the time we remember that God sent Jesus into our world to be a friend to people … but what sort of friend? One of the names given to Jesus is Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Jesus is a friend who doesn’t desert you. He doesn’t force himself upon you. His presence makes a real difference.
About 650 years before Jesus, a prophet called Zephaniah wrote about the type of friend Jesus would be. “He will take great delight in you,” he wrote. “He will quieten you with his love. He will sing over you for joy.” Jesus can bring calm to your life. He derives joy from being your friend and his joy has no cap on it. When God sent Jesus, it was an open invitation to share in His friendship and limitless capacity for joy.
Jesus, God’s Christmas gift, makes friendship with God possible. A genuine heart response to Jesus brings you into a joy-filled friendship with God, who is the happiest being in the whole universe.
Stu Cameron, Wesley Mission
Love that breaks down barriers
2022 began with the hopeful expectation that the COVID-19 pandemic would soon be behind us. And then a new wave broke out. In quick succession, our communities have faced catastrophic floods, an escalating housing crisis and surging cost of living pressures – straining resilience to breaking point.
At Wesley Mission, we have the privilege to walk alongside people and communities in crisis. We know that people who are already vulnerable are hit hardest and have fewer resources to respond.
The reality is, for many Australians, Christmas this year won’t be filled with presents, but with the pain of having to rein in spending, and for too many, with the very real possibility of the looming loss of a safe place to call home.
Our Wesley Mission teams are seeing more people reaching out for emergency relief and homelessness services, and our financial counsellors are booked solid.
Our people have journeyed alongside families to clear the damage to their homes as floodwaters receded and to provide essential supplies and food. In the middle of the messiness of life, they have been there.
It has been in the darkest of times this past year that we have seen the strength of communities across Australia. We’ve seen everyday people doing extraordinary things, like getting in their tinnies in extremely dangerous flood conditions to help their neighbours and total strangers to safety.
And they didn’t do it just once, but time and time again. When asked why they put themselves at risk, they often answered simply and directly with, “It’s what you do.”
It’s this kind of love, this kind of compassion, this kind of care that crosses the street, that crosses floodwaters, that breaks down barriers – that is at the heart of Christmas.
That very first Christmas, Jesus was born and laid, not in a pristine crib in a sterilised hospital ward, but in the rough and tumble of a smelly animal feeding trough.
The miracle at the heart of the Christmas story is that, in Jesus, God entered into the messiness of our human existence and embraced the vulnerability of being one of us – in doing so, making clear the infinite nature of God’s abundant, transforming, expansive and inviting love.
God’s love traverses eternity to meet people, you and me, every person, right where we are.
God’s love so freely demonstrated in the Christmas story doesn’t require our life to be neat and tidy to receive it, for our life to be Instagram-perfect – after all, Jesus knew what it was to be hungry and without a home, to be lonely and misunderstood.
That very first Christmas, God said a very big ‘Yes’ over our world.
Yes, I love you.
Yes, I am for you.
Yes, I am with you.
The proof of that ‘yes’ was seen in the tiny hands of a baby reaching out for his mother from a manger in Bethlehem, the same hands that thirty or so years later would be stretched out and nailed to a cross – the ultimate expression of a revolutionary, universe-defining love that has, and will conquer all.
My friends, make no mistake, the Christmas story declares God’s ‘yes’ over you. All that remains is whether you will say ‘yes’ in return to the love God so freely offers.
The Most Reverend Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide and Primate, Anglican Church of Australia
One of the key themes at Christmas is love. The love of God for the whole creation is the motivation for Jesus becoming one of us. In Christmas celebrations this love is extended to family and friends. While the motivation behind Jesus’ birth is clearly God’s love for the world, the goal of Christmas, the meaning of Christmas is more than the motivation. The birth of Jesus is the beginning of a process for God to be recognised as king of all.
In the person Jesus we see God as a human. In the ministry of Jesus, we see God acting as enacting his kingdom – the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. We see the future new creation being brought into the present and are invited to embrace this future and live it in the present.
Christmas is an intensely political event. Christmas challenges the political order because Jesus threatens the accepted powers. If God is king, then no one else can be. If God’s kingdom is being inaugurated in Jesus, then the other kingdoms and powers of the world must be diminishing. God’s kingdom was visible in the life and ministry of Jesus, so no wonder Herod tried to kill Jesus. He clearly understood the threat a rival king was.
So, Christmas, while very important, is not an end in itself, nor is it the end. Christmas is the beginning of a wonderful project which will see God recognised as king and God’s kingdom come. God’s kingdom when it comes to fruition will be marked by peace, justice, wholeness, healing, reconciliation and will include a new creation of the whole creation.
At the moment, many people in our community do not recognise God as king and our world certainly reflects anything but peace, justice, wholeness, healing, and reconciliation. Our world and its people are groaning and experiencing dis-ease.
Christmas is a feast of hope because in the birth of the Christ child we see that God has a plan for the future of the world which in Jesus is beginning to become reality. Christmas also has an ‘edgy’ feel because it looks forward to the de-throning of the powers and systems behind war and suffering, discrimination and injustice, poverty and abuse. This makes Christmas much less benign than it is often portrayed, and challenges us who benefit from systems and circumstances which see such incredibly unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity across the world.
Christmas is to be celebrated. The project it unveils is to be anticipated. As we grasp its significance, we do what we can to see God’s ‘will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
Archbishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand
Joy to the world the Lord is born
At the birth of Jesus, some two thousand years ago, joy and peace were heralded by the angels and witnessed by the Magi of the East and the shepherds. Those who embraced this peace and joy transmitted it from one generation to the other to us today. Today, in the 21st century humanity is as further from that peace and inner joy as in the first century.
The Covid pandemic jolted the whole world, it underlined the limitations of mankind. Covid’s effect on all aspects of our society cannot be minimised. Its reverberations are still evident. The pandemic further exposed the gap between the rich and the poor, between those who have and those who have not. The war in Ukraine was instigated through greed, intolerance, and domination. The destruction and human suffering are beyond description. This war’s consequences felt all over the world, with shortages of wheat, oil, gas, and all kind of raw materials.
The Christians in the Middle East and the Armenians with them are suffering because of wars and conflicts between various groups and powers. Moreover, in Armenia people experience the aftermath of the disastrous war of 2020 with Azerbaijan. Thousands of people perished and were wounded, tens of thousands are refugees; Azerbaijan continues scorch earth policy eliminating Armenians from ArtsakhKarabagh and border regions within Armenia. We thank the NCCA and other Christian organisations that stand in solidarity with the suffering of the Armenian people, to raise their voice for peace, justice, and harmony among nations.
“For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 4:20)
The absence of Jesus in our society is the reason for all this evil. How can there be peace in the world if there is no peace in the heart of the individual. “Peace, I leave with you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 15: 28) A peace which transcends this world and earthly worries where one is in harmony with his inner self with God, with people and the world at large, a peace and tranquillity where one is unified with the beauty and the silence of the universe. If one does not love his own, how is he going to love others; “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 16: 13) If one does not care for the poor and the sick, how is he going to care for the animals and heal the wounded world?