Welcome to St Andrew’s Cathedral this Christmas. All who regularly gather here hope that our visitors and newcomers have a wonderful holiday. Most of all we pray that this Christmas you may join with us in knowing Jesus as our Saviour and our God.
Over these last troubled weeks there has been much soul searching in Sydney. Nearly all citizens agree we do not want violence to be part of our city life. Nobody likes the fact that our police have had to stop travel to some of our beaches and suburbs.
To maintain a peaceful and yet multi-cultural society there must be an acceptance of each other as citizens with equal rights. This acceptance will be tested from time to time, but it is important that we pass the test.
Acceptance of each other is not helped by ignorance or superficiality. We need to know each other and understand the similarities and the differences of our various cultures. Some of the differences do not matter and can be relaxed. Other differences will enrich us all by being adopted by more of us. Other differences need to be maintained as critical to the culture that expresses them.
Religious differences are part of the mix. We need to be wary of tribalism. When people who do not really practice their own religion use religious tags to identify opponents, we do not have religious wars but old-fashioned tribal bigotry.
However, the attempt to reduce all religions to the lowest common denominator will not work. It is not multi-culturalism. It is the rude and censorious attempt of ignorant secularists to deny people their religious rights. Christianity may be right, or it may be wrong, just as Islam or Buddhism may be right or wrong. But it is paternalistic nonsense to think that they are all teaching the same things or that they are all just matters of opinion – neither right nor wrong.
So, what are the differences in religion that matter – that cannot be ignored or relaxed? They are differences of fact not opinion. The differences concerning God – He is one or they are many or there is no God. The differences concerning Jesus – he either did or did not live, die and rise again.
At Christmas Christians celebrate that Jesus was born of a virgin. Muslims agree with Christians – Jesus was born of a virgin. Jews generally accept that Jesus was born, but not of a virgin.
More importantly, Christians celebrate that Jesus was God – the one and only God, the creator of the universe. That is, Christians celebrate the birth of God. As one famous carol puts it: “God from God, light from light, he who abhors not the virgin’s womb; very God, begotten not created: Christ the Lord”. Muslims do not agree with this. They flatly deny that God could become man or that Jesus was God – or the Son of God or God the Son.
We cannot all be right. Islam, Judaism, Christianity contradict each other. They may all be wrong (Jesus may never have lived) but they cannot all be right.
Understanding the differences between us is a basic component of accepting each other. Especially accepting each other’s right to the protection of civil liberties and equality before the law.
Christians are not expected to enforce their views on others. We cannot advance the cause of the crucified Jesus by waging war in his name. Our warfare is spiritual not physical. Our task is to prayerfully teach, explain, convince, persuade and love.
The divinity of Jesus lies at the heart of our relationship with God. It is not an optional extra that could be forgone while we still remain Christian. It is central to our lives. For Jesus is our God – the one by whom we live and for whom we live. He rules our lives.
While we cannot advance the message of Jesus’ divinity by force of arms, neither can we renounce the divinity of Jesus because of the force of other people’s arms. He died for us that we would live for him. We who live for him should die rather than ever deny him.