One of the most misleading sayings in some Christian quarters is that Jesus was born to die. Indeed, so concerned are some to talk about Jesus’ death that they would really like us to put a cross in the nativity scene! Now, of course, the meaning Christians find in the death of Jesus is certainly very important. That is part of why the Easter story is central to Christian Faith. Yet even Good Friday is not ultimately about death. For, as the Bible Society’s lively 2009 campaign expressed it, Jesus. All About Life is the true reality. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel (10.10): ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’. Death is a part of life and life involves a series of little deaths (losses and griefs) as well as physical death. So Jesus showed us how dying well can be done. Yet this was in service of life, which is the real purpose and invitation of God’s creation of us. For God wants us to live! Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus, is therefore not merely a beginning and prelude to Easter. It also witnesses powerfully, in its own right, to the heart of the Christian message. In God in Jesus Christ, we find our fullest life, which is eternal love, right here, right now, and for evermore...
Grieving is a hard thing to do at any time, but Christmas can be especially difficult. Avoiding the season or not facing the pain however does not help. Instead there are ways to integrate our loss into the Christmas celebrations. The following suggestions (courtesy of Burstows Funerals) – written by Allan Anderson, a Minister with the Churches of Christ– may be of some assistance…
For a number of years in my last job I was a frequent visitor to the Lindt Café in Sydney’s Martin Place, the site of the recent Sydney siege. It was a common stopover after our combined New South Wales Churches’ executive meeting and a great place to relax and be refreshed. Ironically we also often discussed the many inter-faith and peace initiatives with which we were involved. For Sydney is an amazing place, full of so many different peoples, faiths and cultures. The range of that diversity can be a challenge but it is a great tribute to the city that so much positive inter-faith and peace prayer and action has been fostered over the years. This is part of what of what will enable Sydney, and the rest of Australia, to triumph and flourish after the tragedy of recent events.
The Sydney siege is a further confirmation of how vital is our prayer and work for community harmony, not least through the Toowoomba ‘Model City of Peace and Harmony’ initiative. When such terrible events happen, as they happen in different ways daily across the world, they can either erode our trust in one another or impel us to renew our faith in the love at the heart of the universe, differently displayed in various faiths and cultures. The strong base of relationships we have already established in Toowoomba certainly puts us in a good position to support those who are afflicted, to share solidarity with Muslims and others who are afraid or fear victimisation, and to create new partnerships for peace in our lives and wider world. The recent events in Sydney remind us again of how ‘no one is an island’ and how we are all affected by what else happens in our world. At home, Australia has mercifully been free of such events but it has always been connected to them overseas. Such connections can now make us afraid, if we let them, or they can make us stronger than ever in the things that truly matter.
From a Christian perspective, terror at Christmas should hardly be a surprise. Terror is written into the Christmas story itself. For Jesus was born into an oppressive and violent society, and, according to the scriptural stories, the holy family was forced to flee into Egypt as refugees, in the face of Herod’s massacre of the innocents. Yet Christ’s birth stands as a sign that such darkness, then and now, is not the end. There is something much, much stronger and deeper and transforming. So let us trust in that Spirit, shown also in the Magi, people of very different faith and culture, who left their comfort to share the light and love of God at the birth of Jesus. May that peace prevail in our hearts, our community and our world, that Toowoomba with Sydney may be fresh beacons of compassion and peace in the days ahead. Let us ride together on the path of peace.
A remarkable thing is happening today. People of many different backgrounds are rediscovering the importance of gratefulness – giving thanks for the simple gifts of our lives. For giving thanks is a major source of happiness, even when things are really tough. Educationalists, workplace advisers, Oprah Winfrey, and many others, have found this for themselves and are commending this to others in their work. Oprah, for instance, has kept a journal for many years, in which, each day, she writes down five things for which she has been grateful. Others have tried this for a set number of days, like the Australian workplace guru Toni Powell with her 30 Day Challenge. For as we record those things which bring us strength and joy, we notice better those aspects of our lives which bring us happiness and we appreciate better the kindnesses and care of others. This is something which the world’s great wisdom traditions have always known, not least the Christian tradition, with its emphasis on appreciating the gifts of God born among us.
So why not try a new way of approaching Christmas this year? For as we prepare for Christmas, we are often stressed about buying material gifts. Sometimes this can actually make us less grateful for the gifts of life and others around us! Perhaps what is really needed is not so much sharing special material gifts as appreciating the simple everyday gifts of life and one another. Why not then join with the Anglican Parish of St Luke Toowoomba in using the time before Christmas as a ‘season of gratefulness’? One way to do this is by using a Gratefulness Advent Calendar. It is easy to make one, or use an ordinary calendar for the month of December. What you do need are 25 boxes or spaces, one each for the first 25 days of December. These make up an Advent Calendar to help us cultivate gratefulness at this time. Each day of December, then fill in a box with 3-5 things, people, moments, or events which have brought you strength or joy (anything from the beauty of a flower or shaft of light, to the joy of a bird or animal, to an achievement or good coffee, video, book or meal, to the kindness or care of someone for you or others in trouble, or something heart-warming in the news). Maybe, if you write down a person’s name, you will also find a way to give thanks to them personally in a special way? Try this for the 25 days to Christmas and see what a difference it makes…
Check out our Blog at http://stluketmba.wordpress.com
and the Network for Grateful Living website at www.gratefulness.org
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5.16-18)
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.