How You Spend My Christmas
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
13th December 2013
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Church is a gathering of Christians but the Cathedral is a place for evangelism. At no time is this more obvious than Christmas.
Christmas is the happy season – a time of fun and pleasure, of having a good time and partying, of enjoying ourselves and making merry. It is the end of the year party, the family gathering, the beginning of summer holidays. It is the time to eat and drink and be merry, to give gifts and be generous in spirit, to forgive past hurts and retrieve old family friendships.
The holiday atmosphere of the city descends upon our busyness. Even though we are pressured to get things done before Christmas, there is a sense of holiday in the streets. School, TAFE and University are over for the year, students are out and about enjoying life. Shoppers are outnumbering office workers and even the workers are planning their Christmas festivities and summer holidays. Tourists from around the world are in the city looking to experience an ‘Australian Christmas’. At the very centre of the city, the Cathedral is surrounded by thousands of people. There is goodwill in the air as people are open to talk to strangers at this time of year. That is why it is such a good time for evangelism.
It is easier to invite people to Christian conversation or Christian events at this time of year than any other. People often want to go to an event to celebrate Christmas and like to be invited into a celebration. Last year we had thousands attend our many gatherings, often making last minute decisions to come, accepting our invitation as they walked around the streets.
Nobody can reasonably complain about Christians talking of Christ at Christmas. Some silly people have tried; but the very word ‘Christmas’ contains the title of the man we proclaim. We simply want to tell them of the Christ of Christmas. We want them to rejoice in the King who brings joy. We want them to welcome the Son who brings us into God’s family. We want them to know the prince who brings peace. We want them to find forgiveness in the Saviour who brings mercy. We want them to know the Author of Life whose death and resurrection brings eternal life. We want them to know the life “Jesus Brings”.
At Christmas, Christians in church celebrate Christ’s incarnation. We celebrate the moment in history when the creator became a creature; when God became man. We celebrate more than the birth of the baby, Jesus. When we retell the history of his birth, we are celebrating the meaning and purpose of God’s action in our salvation. This is why the opponents of Christianity are so keen to remove any reference to Jesus – for they know Christmas is about far more than the birth of a Jewish baby - even more than a miraculous birth.
Society has not rejected Christmas though many try to de-Christianise it. They try to turn it into a ‘family celebration’ or a special time ‘just for children’. The politicians, in their concern to avoid offence, only wish us the vacuous ‘seasons greetings’; while retailers, who long for increased trade, celebrate Santa instead of Jesus – and in Darling Harbour Santa Fest instead of Christmas!
Not everybody enjoys a happy Christmas. For many people it is a time of mourning and loss. A time they remember with sadness the loss or dissolution of their family; a time of melancholic loneliness in the crowd revellers. However, it is strangely obligatory to wish others a happy Christmas – even if they are Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Atheist. Christmas is about happiness and who is or could be opposed to happiness?
Everybody, except the scrooge, agrees it is a time to celebrate - there’s just no agreement about what we are celebrating. So everybody wishes everybody ‘happy Christmas’, but in true post-modern fashion it means different things to different people. Recently there has even developed the fashion of articles and advertisements on “How I Celebrate ‘My’ Christmas” as they seek to impose their beliefs that everybody’s Christmas is different! Increasingly, in the world of individualism, our community leaders have lost the sense of celebrating something together. Yet, when the opportunity arises, the population turns out in great numbers to sing again of the birth of our Lord.
That is why Christmas is a great time for Christians at the Cathedral to evangelise the city. We gather as a congregation to celebrate the Incarnation, but we proclaim to our city the great news of Jesus our Saviour.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).