When Christ Goes Missing At Christmas

Hope springs eternal – or so we are told. So each Christmas I have a fresh dash of hope, especially when it comes to the messages our church leaders will proclaim during this time of year. And sadly, each year I go away disappointed. It is not all bad news, but for the most part, things could be much better.

I refer to three Christmas messages which came out just two days ago. These all appeared in Australia’s largest read newspaper, and they were all pretty lame. I did a quick search on my site and it seems at least twice before the newspaper carried such articles, and on each occasion it was less than impressive.

The two previous sets of Christmas messages I wrote about here:
billmuehlenberg.com/2009/12/24/whatever-happened-to-jesus/
billmuehlenberg.com/2008/12/21/scrooge-the-church-and-christmas/

Thus for three Christmases in a row now, church leaders have had an opportunity to clearly and precisely proclaim just what the Christian meaning of Christmas is all about – and for the most part they have done rather poorly. As I have written before, maybe they are being very circumspect in writing to a largely secular audience, and are trying to be careful and cautious.

But for heaven’s sake, if Christian leaders at Christmas cannot fearlessly and forthrightly proclaim the very heart of the Christmas message, then they never will proclaim it. If a major newspaper extends to these leaders the opportunity to explain just what the Christian understanding of this holiday period is, then why in the world do they not do it, and with all their heart?

Why offer a watered-down, mushy and sentimental version of events which any pagan could have written? Why even bother if your end result is going to be more or less indistinguishable from any other lame Christmas homily? Surely our Christian leaders are called to boldly affirm the Christian message in public, not hide it under a load of PC rhetoric.

One can in part assess their messages simply by noting how often divine personages get a mention. The Catholic leader offers 10 (God 7 times and Jesus Christ 3). The Anglican leader offers 7 (God 2 times and Jesus Christ 5). The Uniting Church leaders fares worst of all here, with only 2 (God once and Jesus Christ once). That in itself can be quite telling.

Of course one can talk quite a lot about both God and Jesus and still offer nothing resembling the biblical message. The Catholic and Anglican leaders come closer to it, both mentioning the birth of Jesus. The event (the very heart of what the Christmas story is all about) is only indirectly mentioned by the Uniting Church spokesperson, and that in a clearly politically-partisan way.

All three do manage to mention the Christmas Island tragedy. Nothing wrong with seeking to be a bit relevant and topical, and reflecting on the issues of the day. But the major part of the Uniting Church Christmas message is about Christmas Island, boat people, detention centres, and so on.

This leader, the Moderator of the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania, manages to turn most of her piece into a leftwing political diatribe, going on about how un-Christian current refugee policy is, complaining about those “incarcerated in a detention setting” and so on.

Now the Uniting Church has long ago sold its soul in this regard, replacing the biblical gospel for a trendy secular political agenda. So we expect such silliness to come from these folks. To seek to score cheap political points instead of actually informing the paper’s readers what the first Christmas was all about is reprehensible.

Of course none of the three leaders ever mention the words ‘sin’ or ‘the cross’ or rescuing people from ‘hell’. Sure, one might argue that these themes are more particular to Easter. But the Gospel writers did not make such a dichotomy. Consider how Matthew describes the first Christmas:

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:20-22).

Indeed, any Christian leader worth his salt should know what this means and boldly proclaim it. The word Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua found in the Old Testament. Joshua means ‘Yahweh (the Lord) saves’. So even implicit in the name is the understanding of sin and salvation.

And Matthew 1:1 of course speaks about Jesus the Messiah. Christ is the Greek term for the Hebrew word Messiah, and both mean ‘the anointed one’. Matthew sees Jesus as the long-awaited deliverer of his people. So the redemptive nature of the coming of Jesus is clearly laid out here.

Thus the birth of Jesus is unequivocally tied in with his reason for coming – to die for our sins. That is the reason for the season. It has nothing to do with leftist refugee policy, and everything to do with God sending his own Son as saviour to take our place at Calvary so that we can get back into right relationship with God.

Sure, there will be plenty of spill-on effects of this saving relationship with God through Christ. But we dare not get the cart before the horse. Without being in a right relationship with God, all the other Christmas attributes – love, joy, peace, social action, etc. – will only be a pipedream.

It makes no sense urging people to be full of love and kindness if they are cut off from the very source of that love and kindness. There can ultimately be no peace on earth while people are estranged from and in rebellion against the Prince of Peace.

Jesus came to deal with our sin problem. That is the clear biblical message about what the first Christmas was all about, and that is the clear message that I long to hear or read from our religious leaders when they are invited to do so this time of year. Why they cannot come out with a clear and unambiguous article describing what the Bible in fact tells us about the Christmas story is beyond me.

But until they do come out with this gospel message, they will be much like the decorations on a Christmas table – pleasant to look at but lacking in any real substance or vitality.

www.heraldsun.com.au/ipad-application/joy-and-hope-to-sustain-us/story-fn6bn88w-1225975643229
www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/the-festive-truth-is-that-less-is-more/story-e6frfhqf-1225975612157
www.heraldsun.com.au/opinion/in-the-spirit-of-bethlehem-we-too-can-open-our-hearts-to-refugees/story-e6frfhqf-1225975614445

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30 Replies to “When Christ Goes Missing At Christmas”

  1. This message is not just given in the Uniting Church, but it is prevalent in other churches as well (Catholic included). I sometimes think, am I at some political convention or in a church? Shame on Catholic priests for not preaching the Christmas Story as is well articulated in this article.
    Jane Petridge

  2. Hello Bill,
    This may be off topic, however, in today’s Sunday Telegraph, Piers Akerman wrote an article titled: “Time to Stand Up Against Persecuting Christians.” (Link below.)
    The title says it all. This is the first time I have read such a truthful article in the MSM. May it not be the last!
    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/piersakerman/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/time_to_stand_up_for_christians/

    God bless,
    Paul de la Garde, Sydney

  3. I notice in one of the links Archbishop Freier refers to Joseph, Mary and Jesus being themselves refugees, that is, they were fleeing from Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Shouldn’t he, as a matter of honesty, have told his readers that there is no evidence that this massacre actually occurred? Josephus the historian, who dwells on Herod’s exploits, does not even mention it.
    John Snowden

  4. Thanks John

    My main quibble with this is the rather foolish and PC attempt by some to turn the family of Jesus into an early version of boat people and illegal immigrants.

    As to this particular incident, a few quick replies:
    -We need not assume that Josephus (who was born 40 years after Herod died), had a complete record of every event in Herod’s reign.
    -Many episodes recorded in the four Gospels lack such independent evidence (but I won’t here argue for the reliability of these Gospels accounts).
    -Josephus tended to concentrate on events known nationwide and dealing with the royal household.
    -Given everything we do know about Herod, such an episode as described in Matthew 2:16-18 is not at all improbable.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Though there is nothing wrong with being ‘nice’ to each other, man’s efforts always fall short. We cannot experience Christmas fully without Christ. It is He who bring real peace, real joy, real hope, real healing. Without Christ we can only see an empty shadow of what Christmas is all about, an illusion.

    Jesus did not come to earth out of curiosity, to see what it is like to be a human. He came because it was the only way to reconcile mankind and God. If we don’t preach the gospel on the two days of the year people feel compelled to listen when can we preach it.
    Kylie Anderson

  6. I agree with your first claim. There seem to be problems of honesty amongst these so-called refugees. Some are genuine but others maybe pulling the wool over our eyes. To compare them willy-nilly to the holy family is inappropriate, slick.

    On the matter of Josephus, as I have not read him right through, I can’t get into an argument over him. I would go by context and perspective: if there were lots of bad things happening, details of some might have dropped from cultural memory. In the case of the Jews, later Roman atrocities inflicted on them make Herod look like an amateur. Not all traumas are equally salient. The same principle applies now. We easily remember Lidice and Warsaw, but not lesser atrocities perpetrated a century earlier.

    John Snowden

  7. John,
    In regard to Josephus you use the argumentum ad silentium (appeal to silence), which is a standard fallacy. Absence of explicit testimony is not equivalent to evidence of absent events. As Bill remarked to you, the assumption is that Josephus mentioned every event of any significance at all in Herod’s reign, which of course is false. Josephus himself does not even claim that.

    The fact is that toward the close of his life Herod was almost completely paranoid: At the instigation of Antipater, his son by Doris, Herod agreed to the execution of Alexander and Aristobulus in 8 B.C., and then had Antipater executed shortly before his own death in 4 B.C. What we do know of Herod, particularly at this time, makes the Bethlehem massacre entirely plausible, as Bill observed. But in the larger scheme of things it was merely a local incident, just like that of a massacre and desecration perpetrated by Pilate as referred to in Luke 13: 1, and Josephus does not record that either.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  8. Since I was a small boy I remember hearing Christians lament the “taking Christ out of Christmas.” Rightly so. Today, as so well pointed out, Christ is being taken out of many churches.
    We are opposed by a very subtle enemy. Consider the phrase “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Oh really!
    I would certainly agree that Jesus is at the center of Christmas – but could this well-meaning phrase actually be a diluting of the Christmas message?
    Consider both an Old Testament and New Testament passage: Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Luke 2:11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
    May I reverently suggest that we are the “reason” for the season. Praise God for His Son who came to provide salvation to us who could not save ourselves.
    Robert Lloyd Russell

  9. Murray Adamthwaite, the fact remains that there is no serious evidence that the slaughter of the innocents took place. All we have is a story. The mere fact that Herod was paranoid and homicidal does not entail any probability of this specific massacre occurring. After all, the massacre of babies under two years of age on the basis of hearsay is not a known trend amongst paranoid personalities. The real problem with this story is that it is associated with a bizarre tale of three eminent and mysterious pagans implausibly directed by a star to a stable in the same village to revere a Jewish peasant child. To see all of this as plausible is to abuse the meaning of the word.
    John Snowden

  10. Thanks John

    Can I respectfully say that when you comment on family issues and the like, you offer quite telling and helpful remarks. But sadly, when you put your cynical secularist cap on, your comments are usually less than helpful. They tend to just demonstrate again to everyone how close minded and resistant to counter evidence the ideological secularists are. They would rather argue to the death their reductionist secularism than in fact admit to facts and evidence which refutes their position.

    Murray and I have both provided a fair amount of argument here, and you are the one who has admitted to not even having read all of Josephus, but still you want to carry on with your little atheist crusade.

    But the main objection here is this: the article was about how church leaders often ignore the heart of the Christian message, even when given an ideal opportunity to do so. So your particular secular hobby horse is not at all on track here. Given that it is off topic, this will be the end of the matter.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  11. Thanks Bill
    The Christmas story, if that is what we want to hear, becomes just that, a Christmas story.
    The real meaning of Christmas is to live the Birth of Christ each and every day, not just at Christmas. And to live each day as if it could be our last.
    We can all quote a historian, but it makes more sense to me to quote the Bible, the source of all Truth.
    I praise the Catholic priests for putting on a Sermon at midnight with the Crib exposed, lights and candles and flowers for the Child Jesus and His parents everywhere. A beautiful choir with male and female voices, all adoring the One True Saviour of the world.
    I have really experienced Christ at Christmas.
    My point is that Christ is not all together forgotten.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  12. Dear Anne,

    Sounds like the Catholic Church varies greatly from place to place in Australia. Where I am, I can barely recognise it as the Catholic Church. Not one light, or candle was visible near our crib, no music prepared for some of the Christmas masses and little mention of the birth of the baby Jesus, consequently the beauty and glory of the event totally ignored. Some priests in this country, are totally misrepresenting the Word of God, and preaching the message of Satan from the pulpit each Sunday. Please pray for your Catholic friends in these parishes.
    Jane Petridge

  13. Thanks Jane

    I appreciate what you are saying, but just because there is one bad apple, does not mean all apples are bad.

    Celebrating Christmas is brought about by the effort of people. One person, and especially if that person is a priest or minister, cannot do everything by him self.
    In our parish it is the parishioners who do all the work.
    Before the Christmas celebrations the church is cleaned and decorated by the people. Much the same as you would do it at home. Maybe you can suggest to your minister that you are willing to do what ever needs to be done. Involve others,and you will be amazed at what you may achieve.

    I think this is Bill’s message through all his articles. Unless we start to do something, nothing will change. We do not have to be followers in waiting for the rest of our lives.
    I think it is time to be leaders today and stand up for what you believe, and you are right, many have lost the way.
    But I think today is a marvelous opportunity to do small things in a great manner.

    I will pray for you and your parish.

    Anne van Tilburg
    Many people do follow

  14. Hi Anne,

    I’m appreciative of your advice, but if it weren’t for the parishioners who set up the crib and made it look special, there would not be one there at all. The parishioners keep our little churches clean and inviting, and suitably decorated with flowers. They organize the music etc. etc. They are doing their part all right.

    In the Catholic Church, the priest is the one who brings the word of God to the people (supposedly inspiring them). However our priest is rude when politely challenged about what he says in his homily. He does not believe in the teachings of the Church or the Bible. This is the problem we are faced with.

    Jane Petridge

  15. Dear Bill,
    Church leaders are cowardly in hiding the genuine purpose of our dear Lord’s coming – to be our Saviour.
    His name JESUS is Jehovah is salvation. John the Baptist shouted, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
    Suffering for His sake is a superior preparation than academic achievement.
    We need soldierly courage to take the name of Jesus with us, where we go.
    David revealed courage when he slew Goliath.
    Daniels’ three companions preached eloquently despite the fire threat.
    Prime Minister Daniel courted resistance defiantly praying thrice daily. Paul wrote, In nothing terrified by our adversaries, a proof of perdition, but to you salvation and that from God. Gold is courage – cowardice is yellow.
    Harrold Steward

  16. Thanks Bill

    This is the first time since I have joined this website that I am really disappointed. All I have read is stones being thrown at Church leaders.

    “He who has not sinned, pick up the first stone.”

    Nothing will change by sitting in the back seat critizing others, and being self-righteous.

    Bill has written many articles about the family. That is where our problem comes from. All police, judges, doctors, church leaders, etc. come from families. Lawless families, lawless off-spring. This tells us how important it is to rear our children according to the Law of God and the land.

    Jesus tells us in Matt. 13:35-38 to pray for church leaders.
    For there are many sheep without leaders. Prayer helps much more than critizing and often repeating what the media wants us to believe.

    I have only met good church leaders and I have great respect for each one, regardless of what church they belong to. If they work for God, each in their own way, and if that is good enough for God, it is good enough for me!

    Anne van Tilburg

  17. Time and time again, we see what happens to those who perhaps have too much public eye upon them. Fame, even 15 minutes of it in a newspaper, can do strange things to people. While it is an opportune forum to share our faith, it doesn’t ever seem to work. Even those interviewed on shows such as 60minutes and other video interviews have said things that baffle me, such as Christ is not the only way. CHRISTIAN ministers saying these things! I think fame and limelight is a breeding ground for pride and watering down the truth.

    On the other hand, people will always make events into whatever they want them to be. They do it to Christmas, they do it to Easter, they make weddings a simple “joining of two families”. We will never achieve a Christianisation through one 24 hour event. What seems strange to me, though, is how many pentecostal churches seem to go into wind-down mode over Christmas time. My church didn’t even have a service over the entire weekend. I understand the need for a break for volunteers, but I was left in a situation where my cousins were interested in coming to church for Christmas (or even boxing day) but I could not bring them to our church. I’m not sure how many other churches did this but I’m not sure it was the wisest decision.

    Jess Hagen

  18. Thanks Anne

    Jesus offered more critical words to religious leaders than anyone else in the New Testament. Was he being self-righteous and sinful in doing so? The early disciples did the same. As but one example, when Paul warned the leaders in Galatia about their false teachings, and that they should be accursed for doing so, was he being self-righteous and sinful?

    Unfortunately, Matt 13:35-38 has absolutely nothing to do with praying for church leaders. What that passage includes is a stark warning to those who will face eternal judgment for their false beliefs and practices. Indeed, in the chapter before this Jesus is strongly judging the religious leaders, calling them a brood of vipers.

    Should we pray for our leaders? Absolutely. But it is foolish and unbiblical to think prayer precludes admonishing one another, holding one another to account, and seeking to keep each other on the straight and narrow. We are everywhere in Scripture commanded to do these very things.

    And respectfully, while it is nice that the handful of leaders you know are good, there are of course millions of leaders around the world. I hope you are not extrapolating from your personal experience to the rest of the entire world. The truth is, no religious leader is to be unaccountable, above assessment, or beyond being held up to biblical standards.

    We are certainly to pray for them, but we are also to exhort them, encourage, them, and hold them to account. Again, the Bible is full of such admonitions to God’s people. If you find that unacceptable, then you need to take that up with God himself, since he is the one who has commanded this very thing.

    The idea that church leaders should never be held to account, never be put to the test, or never be evaluated in the light of God’s word is not biblical, is not loving, and is not Christian. If we love one another, we will seek the very best for the other person. We need to be loving enough to confront, when necessary.

    But thanks again for sharing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Thanks Bill

    I agree with you, whoever is responsible let him be held accountable.

    My point is that not all church leaders are bad apples, which is the impression I have in these comments

    And I am blessed that I have only met good ones, which in itself tells you that not all are bad.

    Anne Van Tilburg

  20. Thanks again Anne

    No one of course would disagree with you that there are good church leaders around. Hopefully most are. Indeed, I am not even saying in this article that these three leaders are necessarily bad. I simply expressed the point of view – which I think most believers would share – that if you are handed a golden opportunity on a silver platter by the media to publicly declare the Christian message, then why in the world would you want to not take full advantage of that opportunity? Why hide your light under a bowl as Jesus warned about.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Most church leaders are where they are for the following reasons:
    1) They were inept at a parish level and “promoted” to a position that did little more damage to a congregation.
    2) They are people who are put there because they are willing to be “peacemakers”, thus appealing to the widest (and there lowest) common denominator.
    3) Theological liberals have the least resistance and most influence at higher denominational levels…and therefore seek such positions out. They would never get away with it in many local parish contexts.

    Happy Nativity Day….
    Scott Kroeger

  22. Forgive me if this off topic but I read the link that Paul de la Garde posted about the suffering church which is one of my particular interests. All my giving goes to these people.

    I contributed a comment after the article which we might like to pursue with our politicians, flooding them with letters.

    I said “it is time for action not just words. When Muslims ask to build a mosque all levels of government should say yes, when you allow a church to be built in the country of the inman. Until then the answer is no.”

    The new planning minister in Victoria is Matthew Guy who is a friend of mine and a christian.
    Roger Marks

  23. Jane you should go to the bishop with another trusted person and quote verbatim the matters that trouble you. Also pray daily for your pastor. Those called to greater service come under stronger attack from the enemy of man and they really need our prayers. I don’t know why God has ordered things that way but I’m very sure our prayers make a difference, unworthy though we are.
    Anna Cook

  24. John Snowden is a long way off the mark with his comment that ‘there is no evidence that this massacre actually occurred? Josephus the historian, who dwells on Herod’s exploits, does not even mention it.’
    You see, John, Luke the historian mentions it, and the renowned archeologist Sir William Ramsay’s assessment of Luke is ‘that Luke is an historian of the highest order.’
    Bob Thomas, UK

  25. The Akerman link at the top of this column is Well worth a read. It provides a clue to our leaders’ reticence.
    However, we chicken out on mentioning Jesus at our own peril. Jesus said if a person declares Him ‘before men’ He will declare him/her before His Father. But whoever is ashamed of Jesus ‘before men’, He said, “I will be ashamed of him..” That grabs my attention.
    Terry Darmody

  26. Hi Jane

    I agree with Anna that you should get in touch with the Archbishop. The most effective way is to send a letter.
    All letters are answered.

    Anne van Tilburg

  27. How can anyone be a leader, minister, elder, when they do not observe the Christ of the religion they are speaking of???

    The Queen of England spoke about and acknowledged the Bible in her Christmas day message.
    Thank you Queen Elizabeth, for speaking of the Christmas message, including a Bible reading. This is a public witness.

    Judith Bond

  28. Hi Anne,
    There are some beautiful priests who preach the simple and precious Word of God without distorting it to suit PC agendas. I have been to numerous Catholic masses like this. I am just saying that in my diocese it is not happening as some priests don’t believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and distort biblical teaching to fit their PC ideologies. I am just relaying the facts. Oh and writing to the Bishop has been a waste of time, as he doesn’t address the issue/complaints.

    I too agree that the media portrays the Catholic Church in a bad light, and that is another discussion again. It is very sad for the overwhelming majority of beautiful religious and lay Catholics all over the world, to see their Church (and evidently themselves) represented in this way.

    What Bill says certainly applies to those priests who have commited grave sins … “we are certainly to pray for them, but we are also to exhort them, encourage them, and hold them to account. Again, the Bible is full of such admonitions to God’s people.

    You also quote…“He who has not sinned, pick up the first stone.” and say that “nothing will change by sitting in the back seat critizing [sic] others, and being self-righteous.”

    I find it amazing Catholics immediately make these sorts of (nasty) comments when other (Catholics) make complaints about the Word of God being distorted, misquoted, badly interpreted etc. by the priest. That is how Satan operates as far as I am concerned, as it is his will to see God’s Word distorted so that people will turn away from God.

    That, Anne, is what we are witnessing in the Catholic Church today.

    Jane Petridge

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