Rev Alan Lockwood, Uniting Church Seymour
Christmas is such a wonderful time of the year for most people.
Children look forward to giving and receiving presents. We adults get joy from the wonder and excitement on their faces.
Families come together and for our family it is one of those times of the year when cousins enjoy playing together and getting to know each other more. Mums and Dads and nanas and grandpas feel the joy too and a gratefulness at this bonding of the extended family.
Another thing I love about this time of the year is the Christmas tree. I remember my grandfather cutting a good sized branch off one of his cypress trees each year and putting it up in his cottage for nana and the kids to decorate.
Another early memory etched in my mind is of hearing a group of people singing the carol, ‘O Christmas tree O Christmas tree how green are your branches’. Sung partly in the original German, ‘O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum’, it was somehow mysterious and wonderful, touching me somewhere deep within.
Years later I was told by a well-meaning friend but with some disdain that the Christmas tree was originally from a pagan festival and not to do with the proper meaning of Christmas. But that didn’t dampen my love for what for me is one of our most joyful and meaningful traditions of Christmas.
Our Christmas tree, of course I’m really running late this year, is about to go up. Not a snow covered fir tree like that of the carol I love but a plastic imitation. Never the less it will be special once again this Christmas with its angels, stars, lights, and baubles that sparkle like costly jewels kings from the orient may have brought as an offering to the Christ Child.
The Christmas tree decked out in all its finery is a beautiful collection of symbols that point us to the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem so long ago.
A wonderful gift of God’s love for all, bringing joy, hope and the promise of peace to our world. Enjoy your Christmas and God bless you richly.
Father Eugene Ashkar, St Mary’s Parish Seymour
Over the centuries as the Christian church developed, it hungered for landmark events in the life of Christ.
The foremost event remains the death and resurrection of Christ as a confirmation of all he taught and of the will of God.
In Psalm 39 there are the words, ‘‘You did not ask for holocaust or sacrifice, but an open ear. Here I am Lord, I come to do your will’’.
These words are assigned to Christ and his faithfully coming into the world to fulfil the will of the Father. Of paramount importance to all Christians is the beginning of this journey that would lead to his great act of salvation.
The title Christmas comes from many years ago in early England where basically it was two words, Criste and Maesse which meant Mass of Christ. The word mass itself is translated from the Latin text at the end of mass in which the words, Ita Missa est ‘‘Go you are sent!’’ are the parting words of the priest.
As we bring all this together, we can translate the title Christmas as Christ is sent. We are therefore marking the beginning of Christ’s journey in obedience to the will of God the Father.
For Catholics, this is the culmination of a special four to five weeks of preparation we call Advent, which means to come. We have been waiting for Christ to come and begin his great mission of not only taking on our sins and to suffer and die for us that we may be saved, but to also speak to us more directly and clearly about the will and desire of God for all to come to salvation through faith and being baptised in his name.
In coming to us in the way we all come into this world, through our earthly mothers, as an infant, dependent and vulnerable, he chose to teach from the beginning that he comes in humility, love and gentleness so that no one would feel threatened or unworthy of such a gift of divine and eternal life.
Who could think themselves less than a child born an outcast of any human comforts, in a stable, poor, hated and at the same time feared by those in power?
Christmas for us is a moment of great joy and hope. We are so precious to God that he wanted to walk among us, share our life, our joys, our sufferings, talk directly to us and show us the glory of a life, a virtue and the distortions suffered by sin.
He wanted us to know freedom from sin and hell, and the glory of Heaven. As we enter into this wonderful time, may that joy and hope be yours and may God bless you and keep you all the days of your lives.
Fr Gary Atherton, Priest-in-charge Parish of Central Goulburn
In her Christmas address last year, Queen Elizabeth said, ‘‘I often draw strength from meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things: volunteers, carers, community organisers and good neighbours: unsung heroes whose quiet dedication makes them special. They are an inspiration to those who know them.’’
For the Church, Christmas is a time for remembering the ordinary people who took part in the extraordinary events more than 2000 years ago, that would define the whole of human history.
And it all began with a woman called Mary who was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The reasons she was chosen are known only by God. But it’s clear that she was no random selection because although she was an ordinary, small-town girl, she was obedient and courageous. And we know she was a virgin, so that the glory of God could be miraculously demonstrated.
The husband of Mary and Jesus’ adoptive father was a carpenter called Joseph. So, we can assume he was probably a simple and practical man who, like Mary, envisioned an orderly and ordinary life, which would involve nothing more than pursuing his craft, maintaining a good name in the community, attending the synagogue, and raising a family.
But God had other things in mind for Joseph.
Jesus was born in a quiet village called Bethlehem, which was little more than a suburb of thriving, cosmopolitan Jerusalem.
But, prior to Jesus birth, Mary and Joseph had to travel all the way from Nazareth because Augustus Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, wanted to make a list of all the people under his rule. And all the Israelites who were descended from King David were instructed to report to their hometown of Bethlehem.
This was Caesar’s way of keeping the gold flowing towards Rome. And because Joseph and Mary came from the family of David they had to go to Bethlehem to be registered.
But when they arrived, the village was full of people who had come to have their names recorded in the register. So, the inn was full and the best they could do was to go to the stable where the cattle were kept. It was there that Jesus was born and laid in a manger, which was a feed trough, where the cattle were fed.
The Son of God came to this earth in the presence not of world leaders but of animals. He arrived not in a palace or a shrine but in a stable. From the beginning he could identify with ordinary people, and with the poor and the vulnerable.
For the Church, Christmas will always be a time in which we stand in awe of the love of God, who gave us the gift of himself by stepping into the lives and circumstance of ordinary people. He entered the stable that we might dwell forever in his palace of love.