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:
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.