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the eighth day

December 24, 2007

Christmas...

How quickly things can change. In the month since the change of government here in Australia there has been a significant shift across the landscape. Suddenly we find ourselves owning the challenges of climate change, facing up afresh to the significant disadvantage suffered by Indigenous Australians, and looking with new eyes at Australia's place in the world. Economic news now draws a dark cloud over 2008 across the world, with most serious impact looming for the less-well-off. A deep malaise seems to have been shaken, and a fresh perspective has taken hold. Where this new-found energy and perspective leads is an open question, but such a significant shift in such a short space of time serves as an important reminder of those who hold to the gospel hope.

Into an oppressed and riven community was born a special child of promise: the long-awaited and anticipated Messiah. But the news was not announced generally for all to hear. It first infiltrated from the margins: announcement of birth to a young lady and her betrothed. Still carrying this news and newly married, they head off to Bethlehem - the wife heavily pregnant - where she gave birth. Again the news was proclaimed to a small and marginal few. Shepherds in the field were the social equivalent of toilet cleaners - yet it was to these that the angels proclaimed the birth of the Christ-child. The news was discovered by some wise men of the East, who came to pay homage while native Israelites remained unaware. Their wisdom extended to warning the parents, leading to the family's flight into Egypt - the very place where Israel had known captivity. When the child came of age, he was proclaimed in the wilderness by a strangely-dressed prophet. He began his ministry by calling as followers fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and the like. Hardly mainstream Israelites. From birth to adulthood, through ministry to death and then on to resurrection, the child of promise gathered the people whom society had discarded or disregarded - hardly the people by whom to wage a peaceful revolution.

Yet as surely as the Christ-child was born, so too hope. In a strange place, amongst odd people, with few recognised resources. But by the power of God this hope has transformed communities, nations, families and individuals through the centuries. In the space of a few short months, from annunciation to birth, the world's landscape was transformed. And we are invited not only to be part of that transformation, but to be transformed by it. In all our frailty, in all our wonder, in all our frustrations... This transformation is to be born in us too!

May the wonder of Christmas, the birth of hope, and the miracle of God-with-us bring new life to your Christmas season, and into God's future.

Posted by gary at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2007

A Special Christmas Song

If you are sick of conventional carols, here is an unusual "choir" including such classic performers as Neil Diamond, Stryper and Barney... yes, you heard correctly.

Presenting Winter Wonderland sung by the greatest mix of stars our planet has to offer.


(In order of appearance)

Frank Sinatra
Elvis Presley
William Hung
The Partridge Family
Willie Nelson
Macy Gray
The Andrews Sisters
Stryper
Dean Martin
Manhattan Transfer
Barney
Neil Diamond
Barry Manilow
James Taylor
Clay Aiken
Jewel
Johnny Mathis
Brian Setzer
Eurythmics
Tony Bennet

and last but not least...
Mr. Ringo Starr

It truly is a winter wonderland.

Posted by gary at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

November 30, 2007

An environmentally responsible Christmas?

What a waste spending all that money on Christmas trees which can only be used once a year, and for a single purpose. Here's a very creative way of using common materials for Christmas and keeping in the spirit of the season.

An environmental Christmas.jpg

Typically Australian creativity!

Posted by gary at 10:32 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2007

Away with the Manger

From The Age

Taking the pressure to be popular off the Christmas story offers a chance for a whole new meaning.

In the town where I grew up, the Christmas pageant was the highlight of the year. We'd arrive early and thrust our way past the adults to sit at the blue line. We'd watch, enthralled, as marching bands, exotic floats, dancing ballerinas and clowns went past. We especially loved it when it came time for the nativity scene. The baby was cute but, more to the point, it meant that the very next float was Santa's. And while he would go on to set up shop in Myer, the nativity would be carefully wrapped up and put into the storage shed.

Ownership rights for Christmas have long been a tricky subject. We've become used to the tug-of-war between what we've designated as the sacred and the secular at Christmas, but over the past couple of years the ground has shifted even more. Christianity is no longer fighting for its share of centre stage - it's discovering that it can no longer assume that it has a place on the stage at all.

You can predict the letters that will fill our papers this Christmas as easily as I can. "We need to get back to the real meaning of Christmas," they'll proclaim, as though there can only be one, and as though Christianity holds its copyright.

For hundreds of years, Christianity has assumed a privileged position as the meaning-maker within Western society. But in the last few generations, Christianity has become like the favourite great aunt who sits in the corner of the room at Christmas - we play along with her for the day, listen nostalgically to her old stories, and with bemusement to her folk wisdom. "We must try to see more of her during the year," we say as we leave, knowing we won't.

At the risk of overworking the analogy, for many people, their great aunt has long died and been buried. Many people in our community whose heritage was Christian have decided firmly against it.

To say that Christianity is under threat, however, is more than a little melodramatic. Christianity has a resilience and tenacity that's enabled it to survive horrific persecution and oppression, from its earliest days in the Roman Empire, until now in communist China. The decision by a local council in Melbourne to not have a nativity float in a Christmas pageant won't kill off Christianity. Thinking that having a nativity float is a sign of a Christian society is a far greater threat.

It's ironic that Christmas has become the season over which this battle for making meaning is fought. The origin of the festival left the way open for the argument to continue forever. It wasn't until about 400 years after the birth of Jesus that anyone felt it necessary to mark the day.

Historians largely agree that the celebration of Christmas came about just after Constantine had made Christianity a recognised and privileged religion within the Roman Empire. Religious leaders were looking for a way to make Christianity more widely accepted among the populace, so they adopted an existing mid-winter festival and layered it with Christian meanings.

Many of our Christmas traditions came from the pre-existing festival: preparing great feasts of meat and ale to use up all the stores before they went off. While people would celebrate surviving the darkest time of year and the promise of light to come by dancing and singing naked in the streets, we've translated that tradition into a much more tasteful version, with the fully clothed Salvos singing Christmas carols from the back of a truck.

So much for those of us who thought that Jesus was actually born on December 25, and that we were joining in some world-wide birthday party that's been thrown ever since in his honour.

The relationship between what's been defined as sacred and secular has always been murky. Our tendency has been to define some traditions and behaviours as sacred, without recognising that they are - at best - just carriers of something sacred.

Perhaps the great mistake of the Christian church since the festival of Christmas began is that it has compromised itself so deeply in order to be palatable to everyone. It doesn't recognise that it has lost hold of much that is sacred. Which means we no longer recognise the irony of playing Christmas carols in a shopping centre.

Taking nativity floats out of the Christmas pageant and not insisting that Silent Night gets sung next to Jingle Bells may give Christianity the best chance it has had in years to offer something deeply sacred to the world. It gives back the freedom to not be attractive, to not have to be enticing. It lets Christianity stand on its own. It gives us the chance to distinguish between the truly sacred and the purely religious or nostalgic. Please, God, it gives us the chance to never hear Away in a Manger again.

Best of all, if the Christian Christmas story is released from the pressure to be popular it means we can take the nativity from its place in the corner of the sparkly shopping centre, where the star at its top gets lost among the glitter and glitz of the decorations.

We can put it unashamedly next to the dumpster out the back, where there are no other stars to light the dark.

Cheryl Lawrie
November 25, 2007
Cheryl Lawrie is a Melbourne writer.

Posted by gary at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2006

The Geographical Centre of the Christmas Story

Here's an interesting perspective on the course of Middle-East history. A shockwave flash presentation of the empires which have ruled the Middle East over the past 5000 years. It takes about 90 seconds.

Posted by gary at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2006

Poverty at Christmas - a practical step

There are times when we wonder what we can do to fight some of the major global trends which envelop marginal people in catastrophic ways. World Vision has offered an opportunity to keep your voice before Australia's political leaders in the fight against poverty. Their message is one we would do well to heed:

We have seen previous generations overcome slavery and apartheid. Be part of the generation to put an end to global poverty and help save tens of thousands of lives everyday.

Take 2 minutes now to send a Christmas greeting to your politicians asking them to consider the world's poorest people in the New Year. Let them know that you want solutions to poverty. Our easy email tool allows you to send a message we've prepared, or you can write your own.

Click the following link to take action:
http://www.worldvision.com.au/wvconnect/email_mp_christmas.asp
.

Go on... take the time. Two minutes for you might mean years for another person.

Posted by gary at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

Jesus and Christmas

In Rob Smigel's "Fun With Real Audio", Jesus struggles to find a modern-day example of good will during Christmas.

Posted by gary at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2005

Coming to the end of Christmas

I was never been one to follow the liturgical year. Being brought up in the free church tradition, we celebrated the major events: Easter and Christmas, and occasionally Pentecost, but these were generally limited to the day, or week preceding. But this year I have paid closer attention to the Christian calendar in the celebration of Christmas, and found it to be somewhat liberating.

In Australia, Christmas decorations hit the shops in late September (Easter eggs and hot cross buns have already appeared in supermarkets!). By the time Christmas has arrived, it has already been swallowed and destroyed by the commercialism, not to mention the inane repetition of carols in the stores and lifts.

Although I have yet to convince the family to abandon its tradition of putting up the decorations in the first week of December ;-), by counting the twelve days of Christmas (through to Epiphany on January 6), we have seen the Christmas story much more grounded in our life experience. Instead of ending the story at the cradle, we followed through to the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents, building profound connections with contemporary events: the deportation of asylum seekers from Australia, and of course, the Boxing Day tsunami.

As we have reflected on the Incarnation in these contexts, we have discovered a deeper meaning of the birth of Christ: the entry of God into the suffering of the world. Our lights, nativity (which took its own flight to Egypt on a windy day, but that's another story), and images have helped us enter into the Christmas spirit in a fresh way. We have enjoyed Christmas, well beyond the day itself.

Our 8-year-old daughter R, reflected today in discussions about her "discovery" about Santa Claus, that the Christmas spirit - giving - ought not be confined to a single day, if we are truly to see Jesus present in the world.

Out of the mouths of children...

Posted by gary at 08:33 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2004

Half the Christmas Story?

At our Christmas and Boxing Day services, we turned our attention to the forgotten half of the birth narratives. Our traditional celebrations end with the arrival of the magi, and ignore the persecution which prompted the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the children. Hardly the stuff of carols and tinsel - the glitzy and romantic view of Christmas. Why are these elements included by the gospel writers as part of the birth narrative, and why do we ignore them?

Posted by gary at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2004

A Christmas Prayer

We are using the following prayer to open our Christmas Eve service tonight.

You come to us, O Lord
Into our poverty comes your wealth
Into our emptiness comes your fullness
Into our ugliness comes your beauty
Make us ready to open ourselves to you.
Break down the walls
Behind which we hide ourselves.
Quench the fear that burns in us.
Amen

It could also be reversed to reflect the Christmas story:
Into our notions of wealth you came in poverty
Into our notions of fullness you came empty
Into our sense of beauty you came with nothing to attract...

If we were planning the birth of a saviour, we'd probably have gone about it in a vastly different manner.

Posted by gary at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

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