There were even a few nativity scenes. There was Mary, dressed in blue, of course, tenderly watching over the baby lying in the manger, Joseph looking proudly on. There were shepherds, cows and sheep and three wise men bearing gifts. The cliché stable scene.
Certainly from the looks of things, most people in Melbourne celebrate Christmas. Most of them know that it is Jesus' birth that they're celebrating too, despite the media's best attempts to keep it under wraps in this age of political super-inclusive correctness. It sneaks in though. In the midst of the super-secular commercial Christmas special in this week's M Magazine that comes in The Sunday Age you'll read this for example:
"It's a tiny bit uncomfortable watching "Christmas" stories that resolutely ignore the birth of baby Jesus."It's a review of Super Why! Christmas Special, 4 pm 23rd December Nick Jnr, if you're interested. Don't know who said it though.
My point is this: Whether you celebrate Christmas or chose not to, whether you embrace the Christian only and reject Santa or whether you do the opposite and celebrate the secular only and leave off the religious, Christmas is an opportunity for Christians to speak about Jesus.
My friend, Andrew, realised this last week. Andrew single handedly runs a street ministry in the mall in Geelong - the outside square where the youth hang out. He is there many days a week, handing our good quality religious tracts (I would say that - our Church wrote them!) and speaking to people about Christ. It is demoralising and lonely work much of the time, but Andrew sees fruit in what he does and he perseveres. I admire what he does very much, but I couldn't do it. I would find it too hard to be rejected and ridiculed and threatened. Andrew doesn't. He is truly inspiring.
This week though, for the first time all year, Andrew was busy. Really busy. For the first time ever Andrew realised that he was going to run out of tracts. People wanted to talk too! They wanted to talk about Christmas, and they wanted to talk about Jesus. They wanted to know why Christians celebrate the birth of a little baby in a stable 2000 years ago.
See, despite the fact that most Australians know the Christmas story, most of them know about the journey to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey, most of them know about shepherds and wise men (but there were only three - weren't there?), and most of them know about the little baby lying in the manger on that morning long ago, most of them don't know why it is important.
Why do Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus? You see, to most people, the grown Jesus was a good man - or a prophet - or a great teacher - or a great leader. He taught great things, like kindness - or love. But is that enough reason for Christians all over the world to celebrate?
In The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Garrder, the pilgrims of the story travel back in time to the days of the meeting of the Council of Chalcedon in AD451:
"What are they talking about?" Elisabet wanted to know.He's not right, is he? That's not the most important thing at all. Jesus didn't come to teach us to be kind. Jesus came into the world to be a Saviour.
The angel laughed. "They're trying to reach agreement about correct Christian doctrine."
"And are they going to agree?"
"After long discussions they'll finally make a declaration that says that Jesus is both God and man. But they're discussing a great deal else as well. Some of them are so eager to find out what is the correct belief that in their haste they forget what is most important."
"And what's that?" asked Elisabet?
"That Jesus came into the world to teach people to be kind to one another. No other lesson is more difficult for a human being to learn, or more important..."
The angel of the Lord who appeared to the shepherds said this:
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11 NIVNotice what he says - a Saviour has been born. Not a good man; not a prophet; not a teacher. A Saviour.
I am not going to tell you whether to celebrate religious Christmas. I don't; many of my good Christian friends do. I'm not going to tell you whether or not you should have a tree. I do; many of my Christian friends don't. I'm not even going to mention Santa, or presents, Christmas church services, pagan origins, honouring Jesus birth, or any of the other pros and cons of Christmas.
What I am going to ask you do do is this:
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.Remember that most people still celebrate Christmas. Most of those people know that they're celebrating the birth of a baby. Please take this opportunity to tell them why. Please tell them what the shepherds were told so long ago.
Jesus came as a Saviour.
Tell them that we are sinners by nature, sinners by choice. Tell them that all have sinned. That we are separated from God. That sin offends God. Tell them that the wages of sin is death. Then tell them that Jesus is the Saviour that they need.
Jesus is the Saviour that we all need.
That's what Christians celebrate at Christmas. The birth of a Saviour.
For that I am glad.
(Some of these thoughts came from Rev. Graeme Hart. Some didn't. The wrong things are mine, not his though. Thanks, Graeme.)