We are not half through November and I am as bad as a dept store, and already talking about Christmas. But with a large Christmas star to decorate for the Erindale Shopping Centre, and lots of children present, picking up the theme of the star of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus seemed to make sense.
And our story, Applesauce, is very topical for many in rural Australia, who ravaged by fire and drought, will be facing a different Christmas this year.
Unlike the audience that Luke and Matthew were writing for, the majority of people in Australia no longer incorporate a ritual Christian faith into their daily lives. Yet around the time of Christmas, something changes. Shopping centres want everyone to decorate stars. People buy gifts for those in need. We hear Christmas carols in Westfields. The story of the infant Jesus, complete with stars, angels and shepherds, and the powerful symbols of promise and hope, seems to have the power to touch many people, even if they do not regularly attend a church.
So what is it about this story that moves us? Why is it retold is so many ways? And how do we let Christmas fill our hearts as the Applesauce advises us?
Traditionally, the church has believed that the birth of Jesus marked a new beginning for the human race. It is hard to actually qualify that, what with many threats facing our world today and down through the centuries.
But the story persists and has been written and rewritten in many different ways, as we saw with Applesauce. We find Angels that rock and roll, shepherds that dance with their sheep, wise men that were enthralled by stars, unreasonable rulers and census takers along with a sleep deprived innkeeper, a tired young mother and a caring father. We have themes about love, hope joy, goodwill and peace in abundance.
At Christmas, most of us can identify with someone in the story or with one or more of the themes. These things tend to bring out the best in people.
But perhaps the most powerful message that comes from the Christmas story is that of God’s promise to humanity.
This promise has various aspects, such as hope, peace, joy and love, which we will celebrate in Advent. But in today’s world, instead of feeling full of the optimism that should naturally accompany these four things, we are more likely to be suspended somewhere between fear and hope. Humanity faces formidable challenges: war, poverty, economic crises, global warming…so many problems, in our world and in our own personal lives as well.
With increasingly bad news filling our newspapers and TV screens, it is easy to imagine that the problems of our world or the brokenness of our lives can never be healed or overturned. Yet here, like in the story of Applesauce, the story of the birth of Jesus reminds us that not only is salvation of humanity and the world possible, but that we can help make it possible. The story translates hope into movement and action. In Applesauce, ancient aunts and the Shepherd family rally round to support the young couple about to become parents. In Luke’s story, the shepherds, having seen and heard, went and told the good news—they responded to God’s proclamation not just with celebration, but with words and deeds. The wise men bring precious gifts, as the magnitude of the moment fills their hearts.
I would encourage you to take a moment also to think of how we might respond to this story with our own words and actions. We can stay suspended somewhere between fear and hope, or we can take responsibility, and with small steps, work towards our own and the world’s salvation.
The Christmas story’s symbols all speak of light amidst darkness, and hope, peace and goodwill to the people of the earth. Think of these symbols as potential sticks of dynamite, sitting in the basement of every church, of every community, waiting for those with the courage to respond to God’s invitation to light the fuse. Mary sings about how Jesus will impact on the dominant culture of his time: he will turn the world upside down. Like Jesus, we too can turn the dominant culture on its head and work to bring about change which implements the justice and compassion of God in our little corner of the world.
So go and whisper the hope of this story into the noise of the world. Breath in the starlight and listen for angels singing. Allow wonder to come alive in you and the story take root in your heart.
May you find the hope and inspiration to change your corner of the world, and may you keep Christmas in your heart every day.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine