Choose your Jesus

I read an interesting article this morning titled, “Most Australians like seeing baby Jesus in a manger at the mall”.

New McCrindle research shows that 9 out of 10 Australians feel that nativity scenes are part of Christmas and should be in our public spaces.

Even among Australians who practise a religion other than Christianity, 91 per cent are happy to see nativities, while 86 per cent of those who have no religious beliefs are also supportive, according to McCrindle.

While I’m encouraged to know that most Aussies still see the connection between baby Jesus and Christmas as important, we still seem a long way from allowing a place for the grown-up version of Jesus in public.

We seem to like the Jesus of Christmas.

I wonder if that’s because a baby is cute and inoffensive. Baby Jesus doesn’t throw the money changers out of the temple. Baby Jesus doesn’t call us to leave behind what the rest of the world is chasing to follow him. Baby Jesus doesn’t hang brutally beaten and bleeding from a cross in our place.

Despite protests from his wife and father-in-law, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2006 movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby prefers baby Jesus to adult Jesus. In the scene in the video below, everyone gets to choose their ‘favourite version of Jesus’.

Choose your Jesus

It’s a funny scene but there’s a lot of truth behind it. Many people seem to think they can choose their own Jesus. I hear people saying what they believe Jesus would and wouldn’t think about a range of issues without actually going to the source of information that truly reveals who Jesus was and is … the Bible.

I’ll certainly be celebrating the baby Jesus this Christmas but I refuse to leave him in a manger. The miracle of ‘God with us’ is truly awesome but the fact that God dwelt among us by taking on flesh must lead us to thinking of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Focussing on more than just the baby Jesus at this time of year makes the Christmas story even more wonderful and has consequences for each of us that stretch into eternity. That baby grew into a man who would change history. He changed history because he was not only a man but the God who defined history in the first place.

If you’re one of the majority of people who enjoy seeing the nativity at this time each year, let me encourage you to marvel at the manger but then look beyond to see Jesus for who he became and who he is.

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The Christmas Deadline

(This post has been slightly updated from November 2012 but is more relevant than ever.)

It used to be a time of celebration, an opportunity for friends and family to get together, a time to think about the first Christmas and the greatest gift of all. These days, Christmas has simply become a deadline.

Get it Finished

We have to have so much finished ‘before Christmas’. We want carpets laid, walls painted, projects finished, buildings built and so much more all before the 25th of December.

Buy Now!

Retailers tell us we must order now for delivery before Christmas, which I can understand to some degree if it’s something you want as a gift, but most of the time they’re just using the mention of Christmas to add urgency to their sales pitch.

Work Stress

Tradesmen are pushed to complete tasks that really have no relation to Christmas. Whether they’re completed before or after any particular date doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but those paying the bills want their projects all sewn up before the big day. Many workers are feeling the pressure to get the job done before Christmas.

Self-Induced Stress

Then there’s the pressure we put on ourselves. We must ensure that everything’s perfect for the big day. We turn ourselves inside out to make sure that we’re ready for those who will share Christmas Day with us. Gifts, food, decorations, drinks, the list goes on. It’s really no wonder that the ‘Joy of Christmas’ has given way to the stress of what’s become known as the silly season.

Back when I used to work on radio, my regular Wednesday morning guest on 98.5 Sonshine FM was Rev Dr Ross Clifford who is the Principal of Morling College in New South Wales. Each week we chatted about a range of issues relating to spirituality and belief.

About five years ago we spoke about Christmas as a deadline. You can hear our conversation by clicking the play button on the audio player at the bottom of this post. If you’re looking for ways to turn the tide and make Christmas something you can look forward to again, make sure you take a few minutes to listen.

Slow Down – You Move Too Fast

So, have you felt the stress rising already? Have you ever stopped to ask whether the deadline you’ve given yourself is just a false deadline? Will it make any difference at all if it happens after Christmas?

Is Christmas a restful or stressful time for you? What plans are you putting in place this year to ensure that you actually enjoy Christmas instead of racing at warp speed until you collapse in a heap on the 26th of December?

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Best Day Ever

Twenty five years ago on a hot, Perth summer’s day, I put on a suit, went to church, and said goodbye to single life.

Best Day Ever

While it was a wonderful day with so many highlights, it wasn’t a perfect day. While others were free to wear ‘summer appropriate’ clothing, Pauline was in a massive white dress and I was in a black suit. There was no way to escape the heat.

There were other little things that didn’t quite follow the plan for a perfect day but it was still the best day ever. It was the day that we had been waiting for. It was the day that, no matter what didn’t go to plan, we would be joined together ’til death do us part’.

Pauline and I had met in her mother’s kitchen on the 18th of January in 1992. On the 12th of December 1992, we were married.

Say ‘I do’ in ’92

As a bit of a joke, I had set my New Year’s Resolution at the end of 1991 to say ‘I do’ in ’92. That was never going to happen unless I found the perfect person to share my life. I had decided many years before that I would never ‘settle’ for anyone but the right one. Pauline was and is the right one. I truly believe that God brought us together and I thank him for such a beautiful gift.

Today is our silver anniversary. We’ve been married for twenty five years.

As the years have gone on we’ve added others into our family. In 1996 we welcomed Emily. James was born in 1998. Then, earlier this year, Josh joined the family when he married Emily. It’s all part of the richness of our marriage and life together.

Today is the first day of the next twenty five years, or however long God chooses to give us. I begin that next twenty five beside a smart, wise, clever, funny, beautiful, extraordinary woman who I love more than any other person on this big blue planet. I am truly blessed.

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Let the Music Play

The old song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” but not everyone’s convinced. Either way, you can’t escape the all pervasive sounds of sleigh bells and cheery Christmas music at this time of year.

For some people it rings out the happy news that the big day is imminent. Others are left asking, “How did we get here so quickly?”

It’s the first day of December. Christmas is around the corner. That means it’s time for me to press play on my selection of Christmas music.

I’ve got over four hundred Christmas songs on my iPod. There are songs about snow and the cold weather, which sound really weird when we’re looking down the barrel of hot summer days, through to odes to a fat guy in a red suit.

Everyone joins in with music from Michael Buble to Diana Krall, Bing Crosby, Run DMC, Barry White, The Wiggles, Guy Sebastian, Jimmy Barnes and even Russel Coight, along with many others. There aren’t too many musos who haven’t released something Christmassy over the years.

Then, among all the excitement of all that the big day holds, comes songs that tell of something deeper. I love all the fun of the season but the Christmas music that speaks most clearly to me is the music that tells the simple story of a baby, born two thousand years ago in humble surroundings, and arriving with the massive task of healing a broken world.

One of the songs that captures that story the best is still Randy Stonehill’s Christmas Song for All Year Round. It not only speaks of the baby we celebrate at this time of year but of the price he paid on our behalf.

Christmas Song for All Year Round
-Randy Stonehill

I wonder if this Christmas they’ll begin to understand
The Jesus that they celebrate is much more than a man
‘Cause the way the world is I don’t see how people can deny
The only way to save us was for Jesus Christ to die

And I know that if St. Nicholas was here he would agree
That Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me
They led him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary
And mankind was forgiven when they nailed him to the tree

But most of all the children they’re the ones I hope will learn
That Jesus is our savior and he’s going to return
And Christmas isn’t just a day and all days aren’t the same
Perhaps they’ll think about the word and see it spells his name

And I know that if St. Nicholas was here he would agree
That Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me
They led him to the slaughter on a hill called Calvary
And mankind was forgiven, mankind was forgiven
We were all forgiven when they nailed him to the tree

So Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.

I wonder if this Christmas they’ll begin to understand??

What is your favourite Christmas music?

Do you have a favourite Christmas song? Do you have a favourite artist at Christmas time? Will your songs be filled with sleigh bells or a saviour?

Let me know about your musical tastes around Christmas.

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Change a Life this Christmas

I love 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 doesn’t matter if the gifts are big or small … it really is the thought that counts for me.

I love giving gifts. I’ll admit that do I worry about the gifts I give. I wonder whether they’ll be suitable and appreciated but when I manage to choose the right gift, it’s a beautiful thing.

With Christmas just around the corner I know that there’ll be a fair bit of giving and receiving in the coming weeks.

While many gifts are fun, there are some that are absolutely life changing.

Gifts of Compassion

Gifts of Compassion are real goods and services given to children and families in Compassion child development centres around the world when you purchase an item from the Gifts of Compassion catalogue. For every Gift of Compassion you order, you will receive a gift card to personalise for your friends and loved ones.

Funds raised from the Gifts of Compassion catalogue are used to support Compassion’s Critical Needs, which remove obstacles to children’s development and implement preventative action. These interventions include providing safe water, disaster relief, emergency medical care, vocational training, infrastructure, and much more: all issues that need to be addressed for a child to be released from poverty.

Compassion Australia uses Gifts of Compassion funds to meet the project needs represented in the catalogue.

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 desire that we care 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 the 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 goat but for a rural family in a developing country the simple gift of a goat could be just what they need to be released from poverty.

Compassion

So where do you buy a goat and how do you get it to someone who needs it? Compassion Australia’s Gifts of Compassion is open and ready for business. That’s where you can buy gifts that 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 a chicken to mosquito nets and lots more in between including goats, cows, tooth brushes, sewing machines and baby vaccinations.

Your support really does make a difference.

I’ve visited churches partnering with Compassion in seven of the 25 countries where Compassion is working and I can personally vouch for the fact that it makes a difference. When you support those in poverty through Compassion, the aid really does make it to those who need it. In fact, it was after seeing the work of Compassion that I decided that I would do all I could to advance their work which is why I’ve now been working full-time for Compassion for just over four years.

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 goat or a chicken or some clean water 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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