A Christmas Message from Bishop Peter Stuart
There is a chance that some church going people get grumpy around Christmas. Some are irritated because the songs in the shops seem disconnected from the biblical stories and they all seem to be sung too soon. I try to avoid this grumpiness!
Traditionally, Christmas festivities began on the eve of 24th December or on 25th December rather than culminating on that day. The twelve days of Christmas followed from there. Our experience is more often that Christmas Day is the ending of a long festival of lights, tinsel, gifts, and meals.
My life experience enables me to relax and enjoy the Australian approach to Christmas. In December 1979 I was recovering from major spine surgery in a hospital a long way from home. I was 16 years old and, apart from an occasional visit to church and school scripture lessons, I had nothing to do with Christianity. Unable to sit up and move from my bed I experienced generous care from staff and the families of others in the hospital. One evening, I imagine it was the Sunday night, I was watching the Christmas Carol spectacular on the television. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was quite overcome with the singing of Silent Night. In the darkness of the hospital ward, recovering, receiving special care – the words of the carol and the meaning of Christmas broke through. The ordinary experience of Australians getting into the spirit of Christmas engaged this hardened teenager! Some two years later I embraced the way of faith fully. The events of Christmas were one among a number of turning points.
With years of reflecting on these events, I recognise that those days in hospital were what is often described as a liminal or threshold moment. It was a moment or perhaps moments of personal, social and spiritual change amidst profound challenge. I didn’t have the language to express that at the time and I suspect when we are right in the middle of things most of us don’t step back and analyse it anyway!
One of the gifts of the rich theological and spiritual traditions associated with Christmas is the gift of language to express awe and wonder in the face of surprise as well as language to express gratitude and joy. The Christmas traditions invite us to find hope in the midst of adversity and to celebrate love as the enduring force at the heart of the universe. Much of the Christmas tradition invites a personal response. We are asked to ponder how might I be and act differently in response to God and God’s actions.
The Christmas traditions invite us to find hope in the midst of adversity and to celebrate love as the enduring force at the heart of the universe.
The personal response is captured in the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boy. I think we can say with some certainty that there was no one playing a drum as Joseph and Mary were housed with the animals on the lower floor of an overcrowded house in Bethlehem. With a sentimentality familiar to many Christmas songs we hear the Christmas proclamation and a personal response. “Come they told me, a new born king to see.” “Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the king.” “I played my drum for him. I played my best for him.” The song captures the idea that in response to God’s great love in Jesus we give our best in his service.
May we rejoice in the spirit of Christmas wherever it breaks out! May our hearts be stirred by songs and carols that draw us closer to the meaning of Christmas! May our souls be ready to respond to all that God has done for all creation in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!
Bishop Peter Stuart