What’s the real Christmas story?

gifts

While you’re unwrapping your gifts this Christmas I wanted to take a few moments to unwrap the real Christmas story.

We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts on Christmas Day but it’s important that we take time to remember what Christmas is really all about. It’s more than just the gifts and the jolly man in the red suit. It’s more than a ‘feeling’ or ‘spirit’ that makes us feel warm inside. It’s more than time with family enjoying good food and good times.

While it’s generally accepted that the 25th of December isn’t the actual date that Jesus was born, it’s the day that has been chosen for celebrating Jesus’ birthday. That means Christmas is really a big birthday party.

So why should we be invited to the birthday party? Jesus was born around 2000 years ago. Why do we still celebrate his birth?

Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God. In fact, and this is where it gets tricky, according to the Bible, Jesus is actually God in human form so this is no ordinary birthday.

Here’s a little bit of the Christmas story from the Bible. This account is from a book of the Bible written by a guy named Luke.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no vacancy for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.’

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Aha! So that’s where the manger and the shepherds come in.

That’s pretty much the story of Christmas. God living among the people he created. It’s an amazing thought but it’s even more amazing when you thread the whole story of Jesus’ life together. After all, usually when we celebrate someone’s birthday we don’t just remember the day they were born, we celebrate who that person has become and what they’ve brought to the world.

If we’re still celebrating the life of someone born around 2000 years ago, we’ve got to assume that they lived a remarkable life. If you want to find out more about the remarkable life of Jesus, I’d encourage you to grab a Bible in an easy to read translation and then read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) to find out about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

(This is a post that I republish each year around this time.)


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This Year was Going to be Different

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December the 12th, 2012. I was in Bangladesh seeing the work being done to protect, heal and restore vulnerable young women, including those rescued out of forced prostitution.

December the 12th, 2013. I was less than a month into a new job, working for Compassion and I was at head office in Newcastle with the rest of the team from around Australia.

This year was going to be different. I was going to be at home to celebrate 22 years of being married to the most wonderful person I have ever known. I had missed our 20th and 21st but I was going to be there for the 22nd.

The plan looked flawless. Our annual staff gathering in Newcastle would finish at 3:30 p.m. on the 11th, giving me, and the others from the Western Australian team, plenty of time to get to Newcastle Airport to fly to Brisbane and then onto Perth. Unfortunately, due to bad weather in Brisbane, our 5:55 p.m. flight out of Newcastle didn’t get off the ground until 9:45 p.m., around four hours late. There was no hope of continuing on to Perth.

Last night was spent on a mattress on the floor of an extremely kind and generous colleague in a Brisbane suburb. Between the time we got there last night and the time we had to leave for the airport there wasn’t a lot of time for sleep and even then I found it difficult to drift off.

Now here I am, on the morning of the 12th of December 2014, our 22nd wedding anniversary, sitting on an aircraft bound for home. We should reach Perth about lunch time. I suppose I’ll have half an anniversary with Pauline. I’m looking forward to heading out for an anniversary dinner tonight. (While this post was written while I was on a plane, it was published after a very long but very good day. I finally made it home and we had a very enjoyable anniversary dinner.)

So to the woman who patiently puts up with me being away from home on special occasions I say thank you and I love you. There is no one I’d rather travel home to see. You have made the last 22 years more than amazing. There are still many times that I catch myself wondering how someone so wonderful in so many ways ever agreed to marry me.

Next year … next year will be different.


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The Conflict of Christmas

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Once again, I’m conflicted. If I’m honest, I don’t really need anything for Christmas. If no one bought me a gift for Christmas, or any other occasion, I could survive. In fact not just survive but continue to thrive.

The conflict comes from the fact that I still enjoy receiving gifts. I love the unwrapping and the excitement of having something shiny and new. I also love the fact that people care enough to choose something for me.

It concerns me that while I’m enjoying lovely new things that I don’t really need, there are people in many parts of the world that don’t have the basics that they need to get on with the daily task of just keeping their families alive.

If Christmas is about celebrating Jesus, surely we should be doing something that honours him and his heart for the poor, rather than overindulging while most of the world goes without.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we should all be miserable and not fully enter into the celebrations at this time of year.

Balance

I suppose that’s where we all need some kind of balance between the giving and receiving of gifts between friends and loved ones and our wider responsibility to those in need around the world. We live in a global village but most of he villagers are missing out. Those of us who’ve been blessed by simply being born in the right place should spare a thought for those who only ask for the gift of life this Christmas.

I might not have a lot of use for a pig but for a rural family in a developing country the simple gift of a pig could be just what they need to break free from poverty.

Compassion

So where do you buy a pig and how do you get it to someone who needs it? Compassion Australia’s Gifts of Compassion is open and ready for business. Their gifts help people who are battling desperate poverty. They can take your money and turn it into a very real solution to poverty.

You can buy everything from mosquito nets to a rickshaw with lots more in between including chickens, cows, sewing machines and baby vaccinations.

Your support really does make a difference.

I’ve visited churches partnering with Compassion in five of the 26 countries where they’re working and I can personally vouch for the work they do. When you support those in poverty through Compassion, the aid really does make it to those who need it.

This Christmas I do want to receive something for myself, wrapped in thought and love, but I also hope that someone will give me a pig or a chicken or a toiletry kit for someone I’ll never meet.

What about you?

Go on … you’ve thought about it before but unless you let your loved ones know now it’ll never happen. Ask those you love to buy something for someone else this Christmas.


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We’re Better Than This

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Over 700 children are currently detained indefinitely by the Australian government and there’s a rising number of people who are standing up and saying we’re better than this.

We’re better than this Australia is a movement to draw people’s attention to the reality of life for children in detention camps at the behest of the Australian Government. The people behind We’re Better Than This is an alliance of informed Australians who – no longer able to say, “I didn’t know there were so many children in mandatory detention being treated so inhumanely by our Government”- find themselves now no longer able to stay silent.

This isn’t a political movement as both sides of politics have been part of the problem. Now it’s time to find a solution and release children from detention. It breaks my heart to know that for many children, life behind razor wire is all they know.

No other country in the world holds children in the way we do, and the United Nations is very, very concerned about Australia’s policies. – Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission

As a country we have stood up and pointed the finger at human rights abuses in other countries and I believe we need to keep doing that, but our protests don’t carry much weight when we continue to lock children away when they’ve committed no crime.

On Christmas Island, visiting doctors found children showing serious signs of both physical and mental deterioration. On the island of Nauru, UN inspectors deemed the conditions inhumane and unsuitable for children, while a Transfield Services intelligence report detailed several cases of child abuse and self-harm. – The Guardian

If you want your voice to be heard, there’s more information and a bunch of resources at the We’re Better Than This website.


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An Incredible Year

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On this day last year I began a new chapter in the journey of my life. I began working at Compassion Australia so that I could do more to see children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. It’s a move I’m so glad I made and I’m looking forward to what the year ahead and hopefully many others ahead will bring.

In the past twelve months I’ve spoken to hundreds of people about Compassion’s work and the huge difference it is making in 26 nations around our world. I’ve sat in the homes of people who are living in extreme poverty. I’ve prayed with them, heard their stories and discovered the changes that Compassion has been able to bring through partnership with their local church.

In February I visited Indonesia. In July I traveled to Ethiopia and Rwanda. Back in 2008 I visited Compassion’s work in Haiti and Dominican Republic. Each of the places I visited in those countries revealed a different kind of poverty. Each was bursting with the hope of a brighter future.

The following is something I’ve said before and is just as true today as it was when I began working for Compassion on this day in 2013.

I don’t work for Compassion because it’s a job. I work for Compassion because I am convinced that there is no more effective organisation serving the world’s poor. I have seen no other method of working with those in poverty that even comes close to the way that Compassion is working.

If you’d like to help me celebrate my one year work anniversary please consider sponsoring a child through Compassion today. I can absolutely assure you it will make all the difference for a child as you help release them from poverty in Jesus’ name.


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