Merry (Clayton’s) Christmas!

Have you ever heard of a Clayton’s Christmas? It’s a Christmas you have without having a real Christmas.
Seasons greetings
Back in the 1970s and 80s Clayton’s was a heavily marketed non-alcoholic, non-carbonated Australian beverage that looked a bit like whisky. Its boast was it is “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. It was aimed at reducing drinking among those who drank to excess.

Although it hasn’t been advertised for years, the idea of having a “Clayton’s” has entered into Australian vernacular. Today you can have a Clayton’s anything – a Clayton’s Tax: a tax that doesn’t raise any revenue; a Clayton’s marriage; a Clayton’s football team; even a Clayton’s Cake Stall! This is a fundraiser where you ask people to donate what they would have spent on baking the cake rather than baking it.

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Living Expectantly this Christmas

[Please note I am having a break from blogging during January. Ill be back in full swing in February! SLB]

Christmas Day is almost here and the lead up to it is full of waiting, longing, expecting, and hoping — and not only for children. For centuries Christians have set aside the four Sundays prior to Christmas as a time to rehearse again the anticipation of Christ’s coming.

Advent – the word comes from the Latin meaning ‘coming’, ‘appearance’ or ‘return’ – inspires us to look backward to Christ’s first coming, and to look forward in expectation of his coming into the world and our lives today.NativityJesus_s[1]

With a quick look at our Christmas celebrations, one could be excused for concluding our longings consist of cute babies, worshipful farm animals, humble shepherds, and camel-riding astrologers. But these are just the backdrop to a much grander and more profound story – God visits planet earth with the aim of restoration and renewal that is nothing short of a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25).

Fuelled by the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jews and Christians alike look forward to a day when God’s Messiah will set the world aright, bringing justice to the nations (Is 42:1) and producing a world of full of peace and harmony (Is 9:1-7; 11:1-9).

It was the same on that first Christmas. The Israelites were looking to God to send the long promised Messiah to rescue them from their plight at the hands of the occupying Roman army. Their world was in turmoil, their future looked bleak, and they cried out to God.

Throughout history, people have longed to be rescued. As the recent siege in Sydney illustrates the world is often a very difficult place to live in. Read More >>>

Living IN the World (but not OF it)

In his longest recorded prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and notes how we are “not of the world” but are “sent into the world” (John 17:15-16). His expectation is that we will continue his mission by remaining in the world although we will live differently from the world and be his transforming agents within it.

Ever since that prayer, Jesus’ followers have struggled to maintain the tension of living ‘in’ the world yet not being ‘of’ the world. It is not as easy as it sounds and so Paul reminds us, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 Phillips), suggesting we need to be on guard or else it will happen.

Christmas Rush

“For many, Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate”

This is perhaps never as true as with Christmas. For most of our community Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate. It’s a time to party with colleagues and mates and for the vast majority a time to catch up with their birth family.

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Emmanuel . . . God is With Us!

As we draw towards the end of another year and focus on the astonishing reality of the incarnation—when God entered into our humanity in profound ways—we are again reminded of our own fragility, weaknesses and the need to rely on each other.

Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus

“Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé”

When Jesus was born, like every other new born baby he was totally reliant on those around him. Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé. Then throughout his life, Jesus never rose above that fragility of humanity but experienced it to the full, right through to death.

We don’t like feeling vulnerable, weak or fragile so it is no surprise that so much in our lives is committed to alleviating these feelings. We use our jobs, our finances, our organisations, families and friends to mask the inherent feelings of brokenness we carry with us every day.

Some suggest “we never look our best in transition” and change is perhaps when we most likely feel vulnerable. When we navigate changes in our lives it is often hard to be at our best. It takes so much energy to deal with change . . .

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Great [Christmas] Expectations

Even though Christmas is still a way off the retail season is in full swing. Whether we are ready or not, decorations are in our shops, parades are in our streets, and carols ring out in our shopping malls.

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“For most, it is nothing more than a holiday, a time to catch up with family and an excuse to part”

The Christmas frenzy descends on us again. Sadly many have little or no appreciation of the deep mystery lying within it and no expectation of its profound implications. For most, it is nothing more than a holiday, a time to catch up with family and an excuse to party. There is a huge gap in expectations between our community and our Christian viewpoint, and even we Christians get caught in the sweep of our community celebrations and struggle to stand against the tide of shallow expectations.

Expectations are perhaps one of the biggest challenges in our lives. We all live with them every day whether they are realistic or idealistic, positive or negative. These unspoken yet personal assumptions of how things will, or could, work out are projected upon events, people, ourselves and God as well. In a myriad of ways, in every facet of life, they dictate how we approach the future ranging from exhilarating delight, debilitating fear and everything in between.

Christmas too is full of expectations.      Read More >>>

God Is Waiting

God is patient if nothing else. Although it had been a long and painful nine months for Joseph and Mary, God had been waiting since before the creation of the world.

nativity

“It had been a long and painful nine months for Joseph and Mary”

It was in the fullness of time that he came. The Creator born a creature; eternity inhabited time; God arrived as a fragile, small, helpless and dependent baby. The destiny of the entire human race implanted in the uterine wall of young virgin girl. As Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “God’s infinity, dwindled to infancy.”

God went from everything to nothing (2 Cor 8:9) and emptied himself (Phil 2:7) in the process. He had lived in eternity and had created all things, now he was part his own creation.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” John writes (1:14). Though he was the designer of the Universe he came incognito as a baby – God in human flesh; God with skin on.

Here lies a mystery at the heart of our faith.  Read More >>>

Christmas is Coming!

Advent is a time where our hopes are rekindled, our hearts are revived and our longings revisited. Christians around the world will again declare their deep yearning for Christ to return and make all things new. They wait with great anticipation. Expectancy is perhaps the best way to describe it because there is a significant difference between expectation and expectancy.

Christmas is Coming!

“Advent is a time where our hopes are rekindled, our hearts are revived and our longings revisited”

Expectation is the anticipation and belief that something will happen, or is at least likely to happen. Expectancy, on the other hand is what you experience when you are hoping that something will happen. Expectation has a picture of a preferred outcome, expectancy knows something is about to happen but it is not quite sure what.

Sadly, however, our consumer culture is full of expectation rather than expectancy.

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(Church) Life is like a Jigsaw Puzzle . . .

jigsaw

There are things about doing jigsaw puzzles that can tell us about life

A couple of years ago I was given three jigsaw puzzles for Christmas. Over the years I have at times taken out one of them over holidays as a way to relax – maybe they were trying to tell me something! Interestingly, there are things about doing jigsaw puzzles that can tell us about life, particularly church life.

The best place to begin a jigsaw is to have the solution, normally the picture on the cover of the box. It gives you a picture of what all the pieces are meant to look like when completed. Funnily enough it is the same with the church. It is a mixture of a whole lot of different people, relationships and activities. Without the big picture it is easy to lose perspective of God’s big plan of salvation and to focus instead on all the small pieces, forgetting that they fit into a bigger plan.

But even though we have the picture, a jigsaw puzzle can still only be solved one piece at a time with great patience and perseverance. Similarly the church.

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The Future of Christmas

Each year as our community celebrates Christmas it feels as if the name of Jesus is mentioned less and less. As multicultural sensitivities increase in the name of tolerance, the diminishing significance of Christmas is noticeable. More often than not it is called Xmas, and commercialisation has taken over.

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It seems like it won’t be long before the true Christmas story will only be heard in Christian churches

Even phrases like “Merry Christmas!” are replaced with “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings!” It seems like it won’t be long before the true Christmas story will only be heard in Christian churches.

The trend is clearly captured in surveys by McCrindle Research which show that only 15% of Australians now take part in religious events such as attending services, carol singing, and nativity play s at Christmas. Yet, a massive 87% of those who say they are nonreligious celebrate Christmas in some way, just not with any religious or spiritual meaning. Not surprisingly, perhaps, 56% of those who belong to a religion that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, such as Buddhists and Hindus, nevertheless still celebrate it. Australians see Christmas as being about presents, shopping and celebrations and only a third (37%), believe traditions such as exchanging gifts and a general ‘Christmas’ spirit are important.

These trends cause one to ponder on the future of Christmas. If trends continue it’s not hard to  foresee that increasing numbers of people will celebrate Christmas with little or no reference to the birth of Jesus. Even so, despite the decline, Christmas Day will remain a legal holiday because our retailers and the economy could not survive without it. And no doubt Christians who observe Christmas as the celebration of Jesus’ birth will continue to be marginalised. We will need to be increasingly assertive if the wish to maintain the right to celebrate the birth of Jesus publicly.

In the light of such forces it is difficult to know what the future of Christmas holds. However, there is no need to despair or to give up hope, there is more to Christmas that that.

At the heart of the Christmas story is the miracle of God’s love and grace. Christmas is the story of baby born to be king, but rejected by the world. We should not be surprised that such rejection continues today.

“In the light of such forces it is difficult to know what the future of Christmas holds.

However, even despite betrayal, crucifixion and death, God’s plans are not thwarted. Though his faithful obedience to death, his vindication through the resurrection, and his promise to return; Jesus still embodies for us the promise of a new and better world.

The angels who heralded the birth of Christ declared the promise of peace on earth. It was the fulfilment of the visions of the Old Testament prophets that told of God’s intention to once and for all deal with evil and establish a new world order. In it the wolf and the lamb will lie down together and the earth will overflow with the knowledge of God, just like water covers the sea. The future of Christmas is assured, justice and peace will reign.

As we celebrate Christmas this year and worship Jesus our Lord may our lives, family and community be filled with hope, joy, peace and love. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Stephen L Baxter

Christmas Grace (again)

In my last blog I reflected on the meaning of grace at Christmas time, and I’ve been thinking more about it since then. At Christmas time we hear a lot about peace, joy, and love; yet there are two words not popularly associated with Christmas – grace and mercy. Nevertheless, more than any others these words probably reflect the true heart of Christmas.

While we can easily get caught up in the hype that is ‘Xmas’, CHRISTmas is a reminder that despite what Bette Midler’s popular song suggests, “God is watching from a distance” – in fact is not distant but God is with us. Christmas celebrates that God travelled across an impossible and infinite distance to be born a human being amongst us.

Christmas bauble

GRACE: God’s son traded a throne in heaven for a feed trough in a stable

Locked in time and place in a body, God’s Son put his power to one side and traded the throne room of heaven for a feed trough in a stable. Becoming human means he shares our frailty and experiences our delicate lives. The miracle of the incarnation is that God overcomes the divide between earth and heaven and between creation and creator and becomes one of us. Living the journey from baby to adult he lives the journey of life and learns what it is to cry, to crawl, and to walk; what it is to experience not only joy and love, but also loneliness, despair, pain, grief, loss and ultimately death.

He lived a life like no other human before or since. In Jesus, God did what we could not do ourselves. He lived the life as humans were always meant to live but never could. He succeeded where we all fail. Paradoxically, he paid the penalty we should have paid and died the death we deserved. Yet in doing so he won for us a life that we were never entitled to. Through no effort of our own we receive mercy and forgiveness, all because of what he did.

This is a call for great celebration. This is the grace of Christmas. But it is not all. Grace is not limited just to Christmas. God isn’t just in the season. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, God is with us all time. God did not just pay us a visit and disappear. No, God remains intimately connected with us.  God is present with us in every situation and shares with us at every moment. Whether that moment is good or bad, full of joy or sorrow, whether we are holy or sinful, whether we are alive or dead, God is with us.

This is what the angel meant with he said to Mary that her baby would be “Immanuel, God is with us.”  This is Christmas grace.

As we celebrate Advent this year and as we draw near to Christmas Day, may our hearts be sensitive to the reality that God is with us. In our everyday life God is there to meet us in the midst of it. May the grace of Christmas be an inspiration and an encouragement to you in the days ahead and indeed throughout the year to come.