It started with a tax…

It was one of those simple decisions that impacted everybody. The Emperor Augustus decided that he wanted to know how many people made up the greater Roman Empire and so he ordered everyone to return to their ‘home town’ to register – he did this for two reasons – to get a definitive count of the strength of Rome but also to be able to effectively tax all of the people and raise the required revenue he intended to spend.

When you think about the challenges of displacing much of the population of several nations it makes our failed census of August 2016 not look as bad as we remember!

So this is the context in which we find the ‘Christmas Story’ taking place. Joseph and Mary travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem not because they wanted to, but because they had been forced to…the roads were crowded, supplies were limited, accommodation was scarce but there was no choice…

We all know the story pretty well: the innkeeper offers them a place with the animals because it is all he has available; the shepherds visit after the baby is born because they have heard the angels sing… the world, for the most part, remains blissfully unaware about what has taken place… it is a series of images which endure and are recounted year by year.

But it all started with a tax…the first Christmas was destined to ‘cost’ everyone something and because of this it was not a time of joy and peace but a time of concern and frustration.

Many people still view and approach Christmas as a ‘cost’ – expensive presents, food, days off work and crowded streets and roads. As we approach the final days before the 25th I often hear people grumbling and complaining about one aspect of this crazy season or another – they focus on what it is costing them and they wonder if it is really worth it.

The fact is that the first Christmas may have coincided with a cost but it is actually all about ‘a gift’. The ‘gift’ is not the romanticised and sanitised image of the nativity but the powerful message of what really transpired that first Christmas – the Emperor want to tax the world but God in Heaven reaches down to give the world its greatest gift – He presents His only Son, to live amongst us and to show us the way to live.

So don’t just count the cost this Christmas – make certain that you recognise the wealth you have been given through the Gift of Jesus!

This Christmas I pray you will receive ‘the gift’ that waits for you!

The Perfect Christmas

“CAN YOU CALL someone else to come up the front and help!”

It was not a request; it was a command.

It was not a medical emergency or anything of similar magnitude; it was surprising to those who were standing around but there was no doubt how she felt and what she wanted

I was at the counter of one of the $2 shops at Hornsby buying up party supplies for Christmas and there were about 4 or 5 people in the line behind me as the young lady on the checkout was counting and bagging my items.

I had bought up big and so it was taking a bit of time but obviously the woman, who was number 4 in the line, felt that it was taking far too long and so she spoke up as I have mentioned.

It was a surprise when she spoke and the way she spoke seemed out of place.

You could see the frustration on her face, you could hear the tension in her voice and you couldn’t miss the annoyance in her stance…she was in a rush and no one should get in her way.

Christmas has a way of bringing the best and worst out of people – I think that we have probably gone too far with the idea that everything has to be ‘perfect’ for just one day. People put a lot of pressure upon themselves to have the perfect meal, the perfect present, the perfect decorations and the perfect family day – the problem is, life isn’t perfect.

As I walked away from the shops I thought about the woman’s reaction and whilst it was a small, momentary thing, it made me stop and take a measure of just what is really important as I march towards Christmas and the ending of the year.

The goal is not to achieve the perfect Christmas but to remember that God saw that life on earth was far less than perfect and so He did something to rectify it – He sent His Son – and because of Jesus, a more perfect life is available to us all.   So what we need to remember is that Christmas is not just about a day, but all of your days! And that is a reason to celebrate!

“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, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”            Isaiah 9:6–7

Tis the season…

A couple of weeks ago I wasn’t sure but over the last few days it has become obvious that it will be ready – right on time!

I have a number of well established trees and shrubs around my house and at different times throughout the year they come into their own and put on a display. In one corner of my garden there is a tree that is not much to look at for most of the year but as the year comes to a close it blossoms into white petals which then turn a beautiful pink-red, right on cue – last year this happened a week before Christmas and it looks like this year it is going to do the same – it is aptly named Ceratopetalum gummiferum or Christmas Bush.

This is only the second year we have been around to witness this display but already for me it has become a reminder of the ‘season’ we are in. At this time of year we erect and trim trees, we put out tinsel and baubles, we prepare cakes, sweets and treats, we hear (and probably sing) silly songs which remind us “Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la laaaa la la la la!”

It is called the “Christmas Season” and there are things that we expect at this particular time of year. We expect summer fruit, hot weather, afternoon thunderstorms and our grass to grow faster than we can mow it!

But what do we expect of ourselves?

I expect my Christmas bush to blossom right on cue but what should be evident within me during this special time of year?

What is it the season for?

When Jesus came to earth, the first message the angels sang was filled with joy saying “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all mankind”.  It ushered in a time of hope, possibilities and freedom for all – it demonstrated that in the middle of the darkest times there is a season for hope and light and the opportunity to believe again that there is a future that is worth looking forward to.

My Christmas Bush is doing what it is supposed to do in this season – my question for you is are you?

This Christmas you should be blossoming with love, with joy and with hope – not in yourself, and your personal circumstances but in the confidence that the central message of Christmas– Jesus available for you – is still current, potent and present in your life.

Tis the season – are you ready?

Get it right the first time!

I had done the training, I had gone over it again and again in my mind… all I had to do was count to three and then look up… then…hopefully, the parachute would be open and I would not have to deploy my reserve.

As I got the tap on the shoulder, I took two normal paces and a third very big step out of the aircraft and into the awaiting sky.   Thankfully, everything went according to plan and after a fairly significant jolt I was floating above the ocean preparing myself for the cold water that awaited me. I successfully found the harbour (gravity helped a lot), was picked up by the retrieval craft and was finally deposited safely to land. It was an awesome experience and I cannot wait to do it again.

I was watching a couple position the Christmas display in their front garden and they were taking a lot of time about getting it just right. There was a lot of vigorous discussion as to just where the reindeer should be and eventually one capitulated and it was moved a few centimetres to the right.

There are some things that are important to get just right – like parachuting – you don’t have the luxury of learning from your mistakes.   Other things, like the positioning of reindeers are probably not all that important in the scheme of things. As I thought about Christmas this year, I know that there are a lot of different ways we can celebrate and most of the things we do may not, in fact, be that important: It doesn’t matter if you have a hot lunch or a cold lunch; it doesn’t matter of you give big presents or small; it doesn’t matter if you sing Christmas carols or not. There is a lot that is left to personal taste or family tradition but I would leave you with one final challenge for this year.

What if, like parachuting, there is something that we must get right regarding Christmas?

What if there was something so important that if we found it, it would change our world?

The truth is that the trimmings of Christmas can often hide the reality within and we may just need a ‘jolt’ to wake us up again to what really matters.

I hope you find that truth this Christmas!

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”                                Isaiah 9:6

All wrapped up!

We are now well into that time of year where Christmas trees adorn our houses and presents of all shapes and sizes begin to appear.

One of the things I love to do, is to try to disguise the gifts I am giving by using odd shapes or obscure wrapping techniques. This is not always easy to achieve as in years past we have had to wrap drum kits, bicycles, Barbie fun houses and even pieces of furniture. Small items are always easy; you can put them in a larger box and the recipient is thrown of guard.

I was thinking about the fact this week that it is almost like Christmas itself has been ‘wrapped up’ in colourful and confusing trimmings.

I am always surprised when I think of certain things which have become synonymous with Christmas…there are of course the snow, frosty and winter wonderlands which can all be explained by geographical considerations but then I saw the latest advert for a large department store which features an elf on skis, a disinterested angel, a mouse and a reindeer all heading out to go shopping. I start to think that maybe the ‘wrapping’ has become more of a focus than the ‘content’ that is now very much hidden within.

If I was to ask you to summarise Christmas in one word what would you choose?

I know some kids would say “Presents!” “Holidays” “Food” or “Fun”. The cynical would say “Commercialism” or “Meaningless ritual”. The contemplative amongst us would say “Family” “Thankfulness” or “Love”. Others will say “A good excuse for a holiday”.

But what do you say?

What really is the purpose, meaning and significance of Christmas to you?

For me, and all Christians – Christmas is a revealing of “Hope” and the possibility of real and lasting “Peace”. As I look around our world today I see a greater need than ever before for these possibilities. Jesus coming to earth as a child was just the intervention the world needed to save it from itself.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you would not lose what is real about Christmas in all of the ‘wrapping’ that it is presented with.

I hope you have joy, and all of the good things but I also pray that the Peace and Hope of Christ touches you and yours…

“Unto us a Child is born…And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Fear Not!

Not Expected, Possible, Probable, Expected, Certain…last week a new “Terror Threat Alert System” was put in place in Australia to more clearly define the potential for terrorist activities across our country. The current ‘threat level’ has been set at ‘Probable’, which is about the same as it has been for the last couple of years.

On November 13, 130 people were killed and over 650 injured as co-ordinated attacks ripped open the heart of the nation of France and sent shock waves across the whole world. Threat Levels were adjusted in every nation and new limitations and checks were put in place in an attempt to stave off further similar attacks. The French attacks became a universal discussion point and it seems that everyone has an opinion and that everyone has been impacted.

The purpose of the Terrorist is to instil fear and, through the constriction of fear, to impose their worldview upon everyone else…if there is enough fear then they have achieved their goal.

As we rapidly approach Christmas this year I want to remind you of one of its central messages.

The Angels that announced the birth of Christ raised their voices and proclaimed loudly to all those who would hear – “FEAR NOT!”

The world that Christ was born in was filled with turmoil, greed, arrogance, terror and hatred. These were common; in fact they were daily occurrences. People were limited, constricted, and faced lives without hope for the future…and into that world walked Jesus – the Prince of Peace.

Christmas is a time of joy, celebration and family but I am certain that at some point your thoughts will rest upon those families whose worlds have been shattered by recent events. But when you find yourself thinking of that I want to encourage you to not give into fear. If we give into fear then those who perpetrate terror have won.

This Christmas, do not base your hope, joy or confidence on a threat assessment that can change from day to day. Do not base your life on the possibility of a negative but put your trust, and base your life, on the certainty of the one positive that changes everything!

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”             Luke 2:10–14

Lost in the post!

It finally arrived but only after the second attempt! My daughter was very frustrated for the last couple of weeks because my Christmas present (which she had ordered online in November) still hadn’t arrived by the first of January. She had carefully selected precisely the item I wanted – a stylish chrome clock for my motorcycle and she had been ‘guaranteed’ delivery before Christmas and so she waited… she checked the mail diligently every day leading up to the 25th but to no avail.

Finally, after Christmas had come and gone, she contacted the vendor who told her that the parcel must have been lost in the post and that they would send her another.

My present finally arrived yesterday and it was perfect, my daughter was finally satisfied that she had got what she had paid for.

It is not surprising that some parcels go astray over Christmas – Australia Post estimates that $15.5 billion is spent online each year and that equates to 6.6% of total retail spending – so we are talking about thousands and thousands of parcels every day, everyone of them with someone who is waiting for them to arrive.

I wonder if my first motorcycle clock is sitting on a motorcycle in Austria? Or perhaps someone stole it as it travelled from the city of origin in China? Perhaps it may turn up at my house in a few months after completing a world trip? Who knows…

When you think it through, there are number of ways parcels or messages can get lost… they can get lost in the post, they can get lost in translation, they can waylaid for a time, misinterpreted or miscommunicated.

The outcome of all of these possibilities is similar – you miss out on what was originally sent and you are left with nothing in your hand or holding something that is so different to what was intended.

Unfortunately this is what often happens with the ‘Christmas present’ that we were all destined to receive – The message of Christ and the hope and freedom He offers each one of us. This Christmas gift is often lost in transit, or confused by the way men and women have ‘translated’ the message or wrapped it up in religious trimmings and traditions which are archaic and confusing.

I hope that this year you will open your heart to what has always been waiting for you and don’t allow yourself to leave Christ ‘lost in the post’!