Plea for Aussies to remember ‘God is with us’

Church leaders’ Christmas messages, amid drought and bushfire

Grant Thomson, CEO of Bible Society Australia – GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY for ALL PEOPLE. 

“The angel reassured them ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!’”  – Luke 2:10-11 (NLT)

The radical dichotomy of the message of Christmas is this: in the midst of pain there is good news, in the midst of suffering there is joy and in the midst of disunity Jesus has a message for all people.

The reality is that Christmas has always been a time of mixed emotions for Australians.

For some, it’s a time of family, friends and blessing. Yet for others, Christmas is tainted by the sadness of loss, financial hardship and disappointed dreams.

Australians this year are approaching the season with an obvious heaviness in their hearts.

The radical dichotomy of the message of Christmas is this: in the midst of pain there is good news …

Our skies are clouded with the smoke of bushfires that have brought tragic loss and despair. Our farmers are under the extreme pressure of an unrelenting drought. And many face tough financial situations with no relief in sight.

It almost feels wrong to be celebrating anything in Australia this December, let alone singing carol lyrics like “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant”.

But, of course, the message of Christmas – the good news of a saviour born in a manger – is exactly what Australians need to hear this year.

This is the story of a God who willingly chose to dwell among us. Who entered the strife and mess of the human arena more than 2000 years ago and who continues to do so today.

This Emmanuel (God with us) is present with those facing the tragedy of lives and homes lost to bushfire, and with those facing the bleakness of drought. He is present in the face of grief, broken relationships and uncertain futures. And all the experiences of life that come in between.

My prayer this Christmas is that as recipients of grace ourselves we would extend that same grace to others. That we would love all people – especially the “least of these” – because essentially we are ALL the least of these.

Glenn Davies, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, talks of loneliness, isolation and the comfort of “God with us”

There is nothing more tragic and heart-rending than learning that in the recent bushfires some people were isolated and had to face the onslaught of fire all alone.

When we face difficulties, it is all the more distressing to be by ourselves. We long for the comfort of having someone with us. Firefighters are always a welcome sight – they bring help and hope, and God bless them! But God is the best companion of all – even as we face pain and loss.

The Bible tells us that the birth of Jesus was predicted centuries beforehand – it said he would be Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’. Jesus promises that when you receive him – he will never leave you. No trouble, bushfire or any other event can separate us from the love and comfort of God in Jesus.

God is the best companion of all – even as we face pain and loss.

Christmas brings people together, but its greatest joy is that it brings people together with God. Why not let Christmas bring you together with Jesus, our Immanuel, who promises you will never be alone – even in the toughest of times.

Anthony Fisher, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, says every human is made for greatness!

Christmas tells us we are valued, we are wanted, we are loved. Each one of us is precious, irreplaceable, made for greatness. It might sound overblown, even vain. But that’s what Christmas says. You matter so much, that God would become one of us – for your sake!

It’s news Christians never tire of telling. It’s what inspires so much good they do in families, parishes, schools, hospitals, welfare, missions.

It inspires our efforts to support farmers and all affected by drought. It inspires our brave firefighters and our care for those struggling after personal disaster.

The Christmas babe speaks to every human need because he came for every human person. So powerful was that message that the angels broke into song, the leaders brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the workers came with their sheep.

“Every human being matters,” God said. “Every human being matters,” they echoed.

The Christmas babe speaks to every human need because he came for every human person.

Not everyone agreed. Herod was so threatened by the message of human dignity and redemption, he sought to kill the baby Jesus. The “slaughter of the innocents” continues to this day: unborn innocents, more endangered than ever in this state of New South Wales; newborn innocents, the disabled and unwanted; oppressed innocents, including persecuted Christians and detained asylum seekers; elderly innocents, in substandard aged care and threatened with euthanasia.

Christmas presents us with a choice. To join Herod in saying only some people matter, or to join the angels, shepherds and kings at the crib singing Glory to God and praying for peace on earth.

Every human being matters. You matter. May our Christmas Lord lift up your heart and inspire you to share that Good News in the year ahead.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones!

Fresco: Nativity by Giotto di Bondone, 1303.

Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, on overcoming the boundaries that divide us 

The Christmas story speaks to our deep longings as human beings for love beyond measure, peace, liberation and hope. At Christmas, we celebrate that God is encountered in a person – a baby, Jesus.

And the story doesn’t end with a baby. Jesus grows to become God’s embodied message of love – love that knows no bounds.

Through his life and teaching, Jesus shows that God’s love overcomes the boundaries that divide us … those barriers that are created through fear of the other, barriers created through social class, economic status, age, gender, or political allegiance.

Jesus’ call to love as God loves continues today to transform whole communities, as people draw courage to love their enemies, to overcome their differences and to work for peace and reconciliation.

Christian communities and organisations around the world today are working to address poverty, injustice and inequality, motivated by Jesus’ way of compassion.

The Christmas message is as powerful today as it was 2000 years ago. It speaks of light shining in the darkness, love winning out over fear, hope overcoming despair.

This Christmas, I pray that you and your communities will be blessed by God’s word of hope that crosses time and cultures, to invite us into an encounter with Christ, who calls us into relationships of reconciliation and peace, that liberate hope for the whole world.

On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia, I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year.

Keith Jobberns, National Ministries Director of Australian Baptist Ministries, on the struggle to celebrate amid suffering

Christmas is a time of family reunion and celebration for many people. This year this will be powerfully true for Timothy Weeks’ family in Wagga Wagga [NSW]. Freed Taliban hostage Timothy Weeks says he never gave up hope during his “long and tortuous” captivity in Afghanistan for the last three years.

Speaking in public for the first time since his release, Weeks expressed his heartfelt thanks to the people who secured his freedom. He said: “At times I felt as if my death was imminent and that I would never return to see those that I love again but by the will of God I am here, I am alive and I am safe and I am free. There is nothing else in the world that I need.”

At its heart is the conviction that God has chosen, through Jesus’ birth and subsequent death, to join with us in all the dislocation, disasters and distress of our life.

While we rejoice with the Weeks family, for many others this Christmas will not be so full of hope. Many continue to be on high alert as the bushfire season continues unabated. Others are starting the long process of restoring what has already been decimated by the fires. Drought continues to rob many people of their livelihoods as it cuts its way through so much of our country. Others find it hard to enter into Christmas celebrations as they struggle with financial stress, chronic illness and indifference to their suffering.

But, at its deepest level, Christmas is about celebration. It is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. At its heart is the conviction that God has chosen, through Jesus’ birth and subsequent death, to join with us in all the dislocation, disasters and distress of our life. It is the promise that no matter what situations we face in our lives we are never alone, nor is our journey ever meaningless or unaccompanied.

Christmas is the declaration that God is with us. Paul, the apostle, offers this blessing for us all, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

Wayne Alcorn, President of Australian Christian Churches, on praying for those who are doing it tough

As the year draws to a close, reminders of Christmas are all across our communities. It’s a time of great celebration, but for some people across our country, it may be hard to celebrate because 2019 has been so very difficult.

Severe drought is biting hard in many regions, and with that, comes incredible pain and hardship. Devastating bushfires have done so much damage to people and properties in recent months. Unemployment has been a heavy weight on a lot of Australians, and added to that is the very painful personal life experiences many people have had to navigate.

The big question is, what’s God’s response to our human condition with all its challenges? It’s what and who we celebrate at Christmas: God’s Son, who is called Emmanuel.

We can read about how it was announced it in the New Testament. “Listen! A virgin will be pregnant, she will give birth to a Son, and he will be known as ‘Emmanuel’, which means in Hebrew, ‘God became one of us’.” (Matthew 1:23 TPT)

No matter how life is treating us, it is reassuring to know that there is a God who understands and loves us. He is with us.

Jesus did not come as an angel, nor as a fully formed, perfect adult – he came as a vulnerable baby. He wasn’t born in a palace but a stable. He experienced every human emotion and situation. This is why the Bible tells us that he can empathise with and relate to us in all our challenges.

No matter how life is treating us, it is reassuring to know that there is a God who understands and loves us. He is with us.

Take a moment to pray for and bless those who are doing it tough in the spirit of Emmanuel – God with us.

As we go into this Christmas season, let’s be strengthened knowing God is with us, and perhaps take a moment to pray for and bless those who are doing it tough in the spirit of Emmanuel – God with us.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas around the country, gathered around our tables may be family members from different generations.

Flight to Egypt by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423.

Keith Garner, Chief Executive of Wesley Mission, on finding hope in a world gone mad 

As we reflect on global events and those from Australia in 2019, we remember so many who have been impacted by natural disasters, floods and earthquakes, acts of terrorism and, closer to home, drought and fire. Events that would have dismissed as “fake news” by some in 2018 have become our unbelievable reality. From leaders on the world stage to countries on the brink of economic collapse. It would be so very easy to say that we’re living in a world gone mad.

But before we dismay, take a look at the next generations. This year I have found great inspiration and hope in the voices and actions of our children and young people. And at Christmas we find a child, born in a manger, who is the hope of humanity.

It is not surprising that we find inspiration when we look at children. This last year I met a man at our Wesley Edward Eagar Centre that provides crisis accommodation, and he shared that he had been sleeping rough on the streets of Sydney for some time – and that could happen to any one of us in all our cities and in regional Australia.

Struggling with addiction, he turned to Wesley Mission for help. His one hope, at what he described as his “lowest point”, was the possibility of being reunited with his young daughter. The love he had for his child was so strong a motivation to move towards a different future. And this Christmas, they will be together.

As we look at children this Christmas, may we catch a glimpse of how God the Father feels towards us

We see many other examples at Wesley Mission of parents and carers motivated by love who give enormously of themselves, whether caring for their child with disability or opening their homes to children in foster care. Parents who pursue vocational education, who seek specialist treatment for mental illness, who flee family violence and receive financial counselling because they know their children’s futures are in their hands.

When we see Christmas through the eyes of a child, we realise that there is as much fun to be had from the box that a shiny new toy arrives in, as from the toy itself. And as we look at children this Christmas, may we catch a glimpse of how God the Father feels towards us. Sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world that we might see God himself and know the depth of his love for each of us.

Can I challenge you to take seriously the message we receive from children and young people at Christmas?

John’s Gospel describes the astounding occurrence and humble nature of Jesus’ birth, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. And so, Christmas invites us to examine the source of our inspiration and to receive the child who would change the course of our lives and the entire world. For that is the nature of what happened more than 2000 years ago, and what happens whenever we embrace the powerful message and mission of Christ’s humble birth and glorious life.

It can be easy for older generations to dismiss younger ones for their idealism. But can I challenge you to take seriously the message we receive from children and young people at Christmas? When children’s voices are heard, both at our tables and on the global stage, we find hope for our world gone mad.

Will you take hold of these words written about Jesus as they appear in John’s gospel? “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …”

Nativity by Guido Da Siena, 1270s.

Philip Freier, Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, on people just like us

Ordinary and extraordinary are two words that could both describe Jesus’ birth. They seem like opposites, yet come together in the birth of the Messiah in a remarkable way. Ordinary, because we’ve all come into the world in this way. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we will become – this same beginning is shared by all. Extraordinary, because this act of God’s vulnerability is unprecedented in human history before or since. God was showing through the birth of his son that everything was risked, with the benefits only accruing to people like us.

Reflect on what the Father of all Creation was doing through the birth of Jesus, enter the mystery of his life at a  service of Christmas worship.

“People like us” were certainly there at the time. Faithful Mary and Joseph, raging Herod, marvelling shepherds, the persistent sages from the East. All of them share something in common with us too. At our best and at our worst, the gift of Christmas is present for us in our time as much as theirs. Risking all and changing everything about what it means for us to have a life renewed in Christ is God’s gift to us then and now.

If you are tired of the ordinary, make your Christmas a little more extraordinary this year. Reflect on what the Father of all Creation was doing through the birth of Jesus, enter the mystery of his life at a service of Christmas worship. Sing some Christmas carols with your friends and family, go to the core of the gift in another pair of related opposites, which is the simplicity and awesomeness of what God has given us.

Have a blessed Christmas.

The Flight into Egypt by Guido Da Siena, cicra 1270- 1280.

Philip Huggins, President of the National Council of Churches in Australia, on having generous hearts

Looking at the Nativity scene this year, I am mindful of Julian of Norwich’s insight from the vivid revelations of the divine love, which she received as a gift.

“The love in which God made us was in God from without beginning”, wrote Julian in 1373.

The eternal love of God, then, so fully embraces our humanity in the particularity of the Incarnation: at Bethlehem amidst the angels, the shepherds and the wise ones from the East.

God’s loving choice, then as now, is to be humbly present: intimate, courteous, giving us delight and assurance. As Julian conveys; so homely, so friendly, so lacking in pretence.

This is our God with us, our Emmanuel, who welcomes us in Jesus glorious and fair divinity.

In response to, as Julian conveys, “our fair bright, blessed Lord”, we might ponder afresh at Christmas the condition of our heart’s generosity.

For, as Jesus says, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Especially, at this crucial time when we know the human family simply must become a more benign and loving presence on this planet. It is a time for generous hearts.

Metropolitan Basilios, Archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, on glory, peace and goodwill

Christ is born! Glorify him!

The nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the flesh opened again the gates of paradise. The light of the world came to the world he created, to make those who believe in him citizens of the kingdom that is to come.

On the day of the nativity, our Lord willingly condescends, taking upon himself the flesh of his creation. As St John of Damascus writes, the Lord Jesus Christ “clothed himself in creation without weakening or departing from his divinity, that he might raise our nature in glory and make us partakers of his divine nature”.

Such is the majesty, glory and mercy of the Lord’s condescension at his nativity that the angels are heard saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14) Indeed, the Lord God’s nativity is the beginning of our restoration to him. At his nativity, we receive as gifts his glory, his peace and his goodwill.

At his nativity, we receive as gifts his glory, his peace and his goodwill.

By glory, man is called to glorify and worship the one true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By goodwill, true Christians are called to dispense the will of God, in his truth, through faith and deeds of mercy and righteousness in this life. In dispensing his goodwill, man receives the grace of the Lord’s peace and finds oneself on the path of salvation and reconciliation with the Creator, which is made possible to man by the nativity and through the glorious third-day resurrection.

On this Holy Feast, I wish you all a merry Christmas and pray that you may abide in his love, mercy and truth.

Fresco: The Angelic Announcement to the Shepherds by Taddeo Gaddi, 1327-1330.

Mark Coleridge, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane and President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in Australia, on walking out of the shadows

In Australia and around the world there is an air of uncertainty and anxiety as we move to the end of this year. The preference for death over life in many forms; political instability and the travails of democracy; the rise of populist and nationalist ideologies which build walls not bridges; the inhuman treatment of migrants and refugees at a time of vast movement of peoples around the globe; the lack of will to move on climate change which brings droughts and fires here but floods elsewhere. All this and more shows how shadowed the planet is at this time.

… the lack of will to move on climate change which brings droughts and fires here but floods elsewhere.

Christmas always takes us into the shadows. It is for “those who live in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). It takes us there because Christmas knows the truth spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” (9:14) Only at the heart of darkness is the light born, the light of the child which “the darkness has not overcome”. (John 1:5) That is why Easter is the key to Christmas.

In Europe the feast of Christ’s birth replaced the pagan celebration of the sol invictus, the unconquered sun. At the winter solstice, the pagan feast celebrated the triumph of light over darkness; and Christianity baptised the pagan celebration because, with the eye of faith, it saw the birth of Jesus as that kind of triumph, foreshadowing the victory of Easter.

To the newborn child, then, we bring not gold, frankincense or myrrh but the gifts of our faith and the hope to which it gives birth and the joy to which hope gives birth. The star leads us to the light, and at his feet we lay what we bring.

The God who becomes one of us is delighted by our gifts and gives us forever the gift of the Word-made-flesh.

The Nativity by Master of Vyšší Brod, Mistr Vyšebrodský, 1350.

Albert Wong, Bishop of the Chinese Methodist Church in Australia, on three proofs of hope

Hope is about feeling – specifically, feeling about the future that is bright, positive and desirable. As such, hope carries one forward with the optimism that their life situation will improve.

The Christian faith speaks to the hope of everyone’s heart in the person of Jesus Christ. This is more than just wishful thinking. For, before Jesus was born, an angel revealed to his father, Joseph:

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”- which means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23)

The four gospels capture how fallen humanity begins to experience hope – how real, how gracious and how precious – in Immanuel, God with us.

Let me cite three ways the hope of Immanuel is manifested:

1. Lives in crisis experience Immanuel. Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana, when a wedding celebration ran out of wine. So Jesus the Immanuel turned water into wine.

2. A life of failure experiences Immanuel. Once, Peter fished the whole night but caught nothing. Jesus came to him at dawn and told him to put the boat out to deep water and let down the nets. Peter obeyed and caught a boatful.

3. The world of sin experiences Immanuel. Immanuel comes into our broken world to stand in solidarity with us sinners, so as to reconcile us to him.

May this Christmas set you off to experience the hope of Jesus the Immanuel, God with us.

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales.

John Gilmore, Churches of Christ in Australia, on Mary’s radical song

In many ways there is a stark contrast between the reality of life, the pressures people face and the message of Christmas.

We have seen, and continue to reflect on, the impact of drought and bushfire for many people. The images in the media are hard to comprehend. Many struggle to find meaningful employment, our climate is unpredictable, it seems so difficult to treat people who seek asylum with compassion and we have what seems to be an increasingly argumentative environment in political leadership. Internationally, unpredictability in country leadership and decision-making is becoming the new norm.

In this kingdom the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick are visited and the thirsty can drink.

Mary’s song in Luke paints a different picture. Her words are full of hope. God will show mercy, scatter the proud, will bring down the powerful, lift the lowly, feed the hungry and bless all people. How will this happen? It comes to pass through the birth of Jesus – the Messiah.

We celebrate, in the stories of Christmas, this coming of a new kingdom of justice and peace, the values of which are sacrificial love, generous forgiveness and abundant grace. In this kingdom the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick are visited and the thirsty can drink. The symbol of this new kingdom is the vulnerable baby cradled in a manger and celebrated by the hosts of heaven.

This is the birth of hope, and this hope is real for us today. Such an abundant hope provides us with energy, peace and new life no matter what we may face.

May the gift of hope this Christmas be real to each one and may our community increasingly reflect the values of God’s kingdom.

The Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Miriama Laumea, Moderator of the Congregational Federation of Australia and New Zealand, on pausing and enjoying the moment

God’s gift of Jesus at Christmas is a gift of hope. After all, what can a newborn baby do? But what might a newborn baby do?

On the other hand, what might a newborn baby not do? It’s all in the future – and that tiny child has the potential for anything.

Jesus, the helpless child in the manger born of a poor family who would soon leave their homeland as refugees, would one day change the world. It’s not just the obvious – the churches dedicated to him – it’s the Christian principles at the very foundations of our society, which assumes fairness for all, help for those in need and comfort for the distressed.

I pray that Christmas gives all those who are struggling a chance to pause and simply enjoy the moment. I pray that the celebration of Christ’s birth shines through the darkness of their recent months as a reminder that there is hope.

For all of us, may Christ’s blessings give us joy.

Haupttafel des Altarretabels zum Leben Marias, Szene: Die Verkündigung by Fra Angelico, 14343-1434.

Bishop Daniel of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions, on peace amid the bushfires

We rejoice in the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has manifested to us the mystery of God’s humility and love and he constantly seeks our salvation.

When we joyfully come to worship the babe of Bethlehem, let us remember that we are worshipping our Lord, who emptied himself and accepted to take our human nature. He came to our world and lived among us so he can save us; we who were sitting in darkness and the shadow of death. He shone upon us with his light, as it is written, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4:16).

We pray for the peace of the world. We pray for our country Australia and particularly for the drought- stricken farmers and those who suffered in the recent bushfires.

May Emmanuel our Lord, born in Bethlehem, fill us with His peace.

Abanoub Atalla, of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions, on lasting joy

The greatest joy we received through the nativity scene is that of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings born in a manger while he could have been born in the biggest mansion in the world.

Instead of being in the presence of the media and the renowned world leaders, he chose to be among the shepherds, the wise men, Joseph, Mary, the animals and the angels.

The choice that God made to be born in a manger tells us the spirit of this event, the spirit of humility, sacrifice and simplicity. Then we received the fullness of the word Immanuel (God is with us).

“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

The same name given in Matthew 1:23 more than 700 years later.

Isaiah, who was named by the fathers as the writer of the fifth gospel, could anticipate this great event. The word Immanuel now describes the relationship of God with humans in the New Testament. God is with us, best describes the message of the manger.

The angels attended this amazing event and all they could utter were the words:

“Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

This is the gift to humanity, the gift of peace and goodwill. The exciting plan God has for the salvation of mankind is now fully revealed and is due of praise, eternal gratitude and life of thankfulness.

The magi (fresco in Cappadocia), Anonymous, c.12th Century.

Archbishop Haigazoun Najarian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Australia and New Zealand, on remembering brothers and sisters in the Middle East

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14)

On this festive season, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, please accept on behalf of our clergy, diocesan and parish councils and the faithful, our heartfelt congratulations and good wishes to you, your devoted clergy and your faithful.

Without the fear of God, hatred and atrocities are spread from the Middle East to Africa and Asia.

In the Western world, so in Australia, our Christian values are under attack. We, as Christians, are being gradually marginalised. The Christian notion of marriage and family is undermined along with other ethical issues. And all these in the name of freedom. As the Christian values have been put aside, the number of divorces have increased; so the discrimination of women and children; the inequality is deepened between those who have and those who have not. Without the fear of God, hatred and atrocities are spread from the Middle East to Africa and Asia.

Though we have been diminished in number, we are not abandoned and alone, as God is with us.

Though we are under pressure, we are not hopeless; though we have been diminished in number, we are not abandoned and alone, as God is with us. So, let us “take the whole armour of God, put on the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit to quench all the flaming darts of the evil one”. (Ephesians 6:13-14)

May the peace emanating from the cave of Bethlehem be spread all over the world and the love of baby Jesus enter the heart of every single individual giving hope where is despair, light where is darkness and will to live where is utter disillusionment.

The magi by Henry Siddons Mowbray, 1915.

Archbishop Makarios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia, on giving birth to Christ in our hearts

“Today heaven and the earth have been united with the birth of Christ.” (Idiomelon, from the Vespers’ Litany of Christmas)

With these words, sung on the eve of Christmas in all Orthodox Churches around the world, we proclaim the astounding beauty and profound mystery of Christmas – the birth, in the flesh, of the heavenly and eternal Son of God.

Indeed, these words powerfully reveal the marvellous wonder of Christmas – a joy-filled event in which the wall of partition dividing heaven and earth is torn down, once and for all, thereby opening up God’s enduring presence within the world.

This strange paradox of God becoming human is not an event which only concerned the past but is significant for the present, and indeed for the future of the world.

Indeed, what is unveiled before us, with the birth of Christ, is the fulfilment of God’s pre-eternal purpose and eschatological destiny to be united with the world, bestowing, in this way, upon humanity, the possibility of becoming ‘gods’ by grace (2 Peter 1:4).

Reflecting a little further, this strange paradox of God becoming human is not an event which only concerned the past but is significant for the present, and indeed for the future of the world. It is for this reason, that we also sing, “Christ is born, glorify him—Χριστός γεννᾶται δοξάσατε – and was not Christ born some 2000 years ago, since, by the birth of the Theanthropos, the whole of created human nature, spanning from the creation of the world in the beginning, all the way into the future, is now given the means to be taken out of the narrow and death-begetting boundaries of isolation, so as to be inspired with the optimism of unity, by grace, with God.

It is this unprecedented joy of God who is now Emmanuel, that is, God with us – and indeed forever with us – that the universal feast of Christmas invites all faithful to experience.

With this unprecedented gift of life – indeed, eternal life in and with Christ – may we give birth to Christ personally in our hearts and in our lives. In so doing, let us behold once again the world with love and trust, with patience and tolerance empowered by the message that Christ “was born for our salvation, a newborn Child, the pre-eternal God”.

The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-1311.

John Henderson, Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Australia, on love come to life

Christmas Eve: it could be our most stressful day of the year. We have one eye on the clock ticking down, the other on the credit card balance clocking up. Preparing for Christmas should be a happy time, but seasonal demands and expectations cause many people anxiety and depression.

Christmas is indeed a time for families, gift-giving and parties, but that is only part of the story. The greater part is the free gift of life, love, and forgiveness. This is the very heart of Christmas, whatever our personal or family circumstances.

In Jesus, our God knows us inside out, our deepest desires and needs.

Quite simply, Christmas is the best “good news” story. We are forgiven, and we are loved. In a world of death we have life. God reaches into our world to do what we cannot do for ourselves. We are new people with a new hope and a new reason for living. It comes within, in our hearts, in a child of promise who quite simply changes everything – all our hopes, and everything we live for.

One of his names is Immanuel, which translates as God is with us. In Jesus, our God knows us inside out, our deepest desires and needs. God chooses, voluntarily, to identify with us, suffer with us, and even die like us. This is the uniquely Christian belief in the God who loves us. It’s what faith and the Bible are really all about.

Even today, despite our doubts, anxieties and fears, God has not abandoned us or the world. When we suffer, God suffers. When we rejoice, God rejoices. When we need love, God loves us.

When we need saving, God saves us. This is the most wonderful Christmas gift of Jesus, who is love come to life.

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govaert Flinck, 1639.

Ann Zubrick, Presiding Clerk of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia, on letting love be our token

The Christmas story and message have held different meanings for me across the years. As a young child I enjoyed those carols which told different parts of the story – an angel visiting Mary during her pregnancy, the birth of Jesus in the stable, the shepherds, and the wise men.

Singing in a school choir, church choir and now a community choir, I have learned more carols, from different countries and reflecting different traditions: carols which capture something deeper.

Christina Rossetti wrote a poem in her diary in 1885. Over the years it has been set to music by many composers. This beautiful carol is now not often sung.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

This year, as I reflect on our world and the challenges we face, this carol has become a prayer. How might we make love our token?

The Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Commissioners Janine and Robert Donaldson, Territorial Leaders of the The Salvation Army, Australia, on being lost at Christmas

It’s a privilege to greet you this Christmas. For so many people, Christmas-time only accentuates their sense of lostness – of being alone in the crowd. The emphasis on family, happy memories, celebration and giving just reminds them of their isolation and that life has not been like that for them.

Perhaps that is why The Salvation Army, along with so many other churches, make Christmas a major focus of their year. Perhaps that is why we arrange special meals in the community, assistance and the giving of toys and hampers. We want to replace the sense of loss or meet the urgent need and display the spirit of Christmas in the most practical way.

Sometimes the hurting, broken, lonely and lost are the ones who appear to have it all together.

Yet despite all we do, we cannot fix broken lives or heal the deep wounds of the heart. Sometimes we are surprised to discover that the people who feel most lost in this Christmas maze are not the economically strapped. Sometimes the hurting, broken, lonely and lost are the ones who appear to have it all together.

It is so important that we don’t get carried away with nostalgia when it comes to the Christmas story. We can romanticise the scene of Jesus’ birth and miss the power of its message. God took on human flesh – no longer distant and unreachable – and he moved into our neighbourhood. Jesus spent his life in search of those who needed to reconnect with their Maker.

Christmas is about the coming of the Saviour of the world – the loving Saviour – the one who searches out lost people, embraces them, and gives them the best sense of belonging they could ever imagine. He is our mighty God for whom nothing is impossible.

“And she will have a Son and you shall name him Jesus (meaning ‘Saviour ‘), for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, TLB)

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15, NIV)

So, this Christmas, let us trust God, rely on his power, live in relationship with him and partner with him to bring life, light and hope to our world. May God bless you.