Christmas is an incredibly special time of year. The festive season summons a colourful array of feelings, memories and hopes that often transcend words.
Australian Christians have been busier than ever in 2022, informing voters, fielding candidates, contesting elections and putting some big wins on the board that have set us up well for the future. Now, as the year closes, Christmas is an opportunity for all of us to rest, spend time with family, and reflect on what is most important.
Even for many people who don’t follow Jesus, Christmas still retains its significance, and is marked by many customs — whether decorating, preparing food, gift-giving, listening to familiar tunes, or gathering with loved ones. These rituals are our culture’s admission that there is something bigger to life, something that unites us and gives purpose and promise beyond the ordinary.
In Australia, Christmas remains our most prominent holiday, an indispensable event on our yearly calendar. More than just another opportunity to blow off steam, Christmas is a spiritual celebration. This is true even in our secular age.
The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has a wonderful way of explaining why celebrations like Christmas are so sacred. He suggests that secularism has “flattened” time. Now we experience life as merely a tick-tock of chronological events: one moment following the next, wherein we keep ourselves busy working on our various projects.
Christmas reminds us that there is a higher ordering of time that is not linear or chronological. According to Taylor, these “higher times gather and reorder secular time. They introduce ‘warps’ and seeming inconsistencies in profane time-ordering. Events which were far apart could nevertheless be closely linked.”
This is why Christmas 2022 can feel closer to, and have more in common with, the first Christmas in Bethlehem, than June 2022. The timelessness of Christmas seems to reappear every time we celebrate it. God lives outside of time and he meets us in a special way every time we stop and observe the birth of Christ. It is almost like we are transported from our mundane world and gathered with shepherds and angels at that holy manger scene.
In medieval times, the church diligently followed a sacred calendar, marking holy days, weeks and seasons throughout the year. Some Christian traditions still do the same. Living in our modern, secular world, we — even Christians — have mostly abandoned that calendar. Christmas is our one, major exception. At Christmas, our culture’s incurable hunger for God resurfaces, and he quietly meets us in our celebration of Jesus’ birth.
The birth of Christ is a big deal in Scripture. A choir of heavenly angels announce the event. Philosopher-kings cross deserts bearing gifts for Jesus. Afraid of losing his grip on power, a jealous King Herod even unleashes a genocide to eliminate all potential threats to his throne.
Jesus’ birth is surrounded by such profound events because he was no ordinary baby. Foretold by prophets centuries in advance, Christ’s arrival was the arrival of God himself. Jesus is Immanuel, God With Us. In the words of the prophet Isaiah:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
At the birth of Christ, God stepped down into His creation. He took on flesh and made himself vulnerable to all the pressures and limitations of human existence. When our star-breathing Creator was born to a teenage virgin, wrapped in rags and laid in an animal’s feeding trough, our picture of God was transformed forever. As the apostle Paul declared in Philippians 2:6-7:
Though he [Jesus] was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the Christmas story is that, after a week of travel by foot from their hometown of Nazareth, a weary Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary could find no room in the inn at Bethlehem.
There was no room for God in the world he came to save.
It is a tragedy still true today, with the secular West being a prime example of humanity’s rejection of God. We enjoy his blessings more than any generation in history, yet we push God to the periphery of our society and our lives.
Still, the gentle whisper of Christmas cannot be missed: make room for Jesus in your life. In the words of the great carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin / Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in”.
At Australian Christians, this is our reflection as we end the year and celebrate Christmas. We are reminded of what’s most important, and we are committed to keeping the non-negotiables the non-negotiables.
And when the year begins anew, we will be back encouraging Australians to vote with God’s priorities — to make room for Jesus in our hearts and in our politics. We will be standing for righteousness whether or not we are popular for doing so. And we continue to welcome your partnership in the journey.
God bless, and have a very merry Christmas.
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