21 Dec 2009

Don't throw out the baby...

We wandered into the City to do a spot of shopping on Saturday and entered into the madness that is the weekend before Christmas. Bedlam. There were shoppers everywhere, bags bulging, voices raised. Most of them looked happy; some looked harassed; a few looked downright annoyed. There was noise. It seems that many people now shop by telephone, describing the gift they are considering in agonising detail to the disembodied voice at the other end of the line, "It looks really fantastic...Yes... It is on the New York Review Book List so it must be pretty good...uh ha... It's only nineteen ninety five...yep, yep...okay then...bye." Layered over the top of the cacophony were the Christmas Carols, Joy to the World; Oh Come, Oh Come Immanuel; Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. There were a number of Santas. There were gaily wrapped presents, and there were the Myer Windows. Olivia helps with Christmas. Fun, and true to the book, but not as good as The Wind on the Willows back in 2001 or 2004's The Polar Express in my opinion - which is generally the opinion I offer. There were Christmas trees in abundance - lots of them.

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.

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..."
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 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 NIV
Notice 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.)


  1. Some good points ~ but they need to be addressed anyway. There has been too much of a watered down gospel for far too long & that is something that needs to be rectified, not just at Christmas. I'm not much good at soapboxing in the streets but one reason I think so few Christians do it is they don't realise they are even meant to. *sigh* Teach the people well that they are enabled to go into the whole world & share the Good News.

  2. Amen & Amen. Wonderful post. It is so desperately important that we share the ENTIRE Gospel.

    My pastor mixed things up this year and instead of preaching out of the first three gospels, he chose John 1. Powerful sermon about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among man. It was awe-inspiring to hear the entire congregation reading the chapter aloud.

  3. you were listening yesterday :)

    it was a great message, hey?

    also, I do think you can go & tell with out street soapboxing. I'm sure you do too - really, we weren't all cut out for that sort of thing (btw i read this after i sent you an email wriggler in my lap bad punctuation.)

    hugs and kisses!


  4. ooops. wriggler in the lap also affects my reading.

    Ganeida - I mistakenly read your comment as part of Jeanne's writing in her post! But still hold to what I wrote without any hard-feelings!

    Love and hugs,

  5. Nope, you won't see me soap-boxing any time soon. Wish I were brave enough to though.

    Yes, I enjoyed Graeme's message very much. I think there was a lot more in it than what I've written here though!!

  6. While I agree with Ganeida that the gospel is needed year round, we see here in Japan that many people are just much more receptive to it at this time of year. It is really a good chance to talk about the "why" of the incarnation, because were just talking about Christmas, which everyone loves. We just have a lot more filling in of facts to do over here!

  7. Hi Jeanne,
    Had a wonderful weekend? Raining here but we still managered a tract drop this morning. Have been praying God will bless this endevour and that he will turn hearts to himself. No soap box preaching required! Not my cup o' tea.


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