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

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Happy New Year!

Self-Portrait, Spring 1887, Oil on pasteboard,...

Vincent Van Gogh, self-portrait

How did you go with your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re anything like me, probably not too well. In fact, I have now decided not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I, like many thousands of others, have found that they are not much use; you just tend to break them within four or five days. In fact, studies show that 88-92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail.

But why? There are many reasons, but one I find compelling is that resolutions are more often than not desperate attempts to change something in our lives using a form of self punishment. We subconsciously punish ourselves for those things that we haven’t yet achieved, or those things we wish we could do better.  Our hope is that a resolution will somehow bring about a change in behaviour and ultimately help us feel better about ourselves.

Like all punishments, resolutions come from a negative base and when we fail we more often than not end up feeling guilty. So the best solution is not to make them at all.

So while life without resolutions may be freeing, it does not mean we throw out goal setting altogether. In fact, goal setting is quite different to making resolutions.

The difference between a goal and a resolution is that resolutions are focused on what you don’t want rather than on what you do want. Goal setting is about overcoming obstacles to reach a desired end. A resolution such as, “don’t eat chocolate,” can be made into a goal like “eat more healthily.” The difference between the two can be quite profound. I believe Vincent van Gogh was hinting at the same idea when he said, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” In other words, replace the negative with a positive.

The other difference between a resolution and a goal is the fallout when it is not achieved. Often once you break your resolution that’s the end of it, you’ve failed. But if you miss your goal, the goal still remains, it is still an aspiration and something that can remain positive by reviewing progress, learning from it, celebrating the effort so far and continuing to move toward your goal.

Goal setting rather than making resolutions maybe the best way to go and New Year is an obvious time for thoughtful reflection and decision. Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that we ought not to be anxious about life, but nor should we be so lazy as to make no plans at all. We are encouraged to look at our lives and become all that God has called us to be (Philippians 3:12-14).There is a place of humility where we submit our plans to the Lord, and yet we are to “continue to work out our salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

So while I’m not making any resolutions again this year, I have been reflecting on the past year and setting goals for the new. My primary focus is following Jesus and serving him.

What about you? May your new year be filled with a genuine desire to grow in your commitment to Jesus Christ and may you experience the joy, peace and fulfilment that come from being on that journey with him.

Stephen L Baxter