[Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia] Tena koutou katoa, Ni sa bula vinaka, Malo elelei, Namas’te, Talofa lava, Warm greetings.
Meri Kirihimete ki a koutou, Ofa ke mou màu ha Kilisimasi Fiefia, Manuia le Kerisimasi, Barda Dhin Subh Ho, Vanuinui vinaka ni Siga ni Sucu, Christmas greetings to you all
Roger Herft, the Archbishop of Western Australia, is a great friend of this church – and, as we shall read, a man of hidden talents:
The Flight into Egypt
A forced journey fleeing from oppression, war –
Life protected in unlikely places –
discarded by those who claim the
Keep on the journey –
Take your refuge in our midst
For the unrest is your story –
Disturb our false Gods of Security and peace
Take charge of our lives –
Make our endless evasions of Truth cease
Archbishop Herft’s poem reminds us that the message of the peace, joy and hope of Christmas was first proclaimed in a time of great uncertainty, change and fear.
First century Judeans were gripped with anxiety – even, perhaps, as the people of Syria are now – and even the first bearers of the Christmas message were on the run, on a journey into trackless and uncertain regions.
But the message of Christmas is irresistible. It came, for example, to three shepherds, out in the fields: “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2:10).
Christmas does not promise an immediate end to struggles, trials and fears. Rather, it declares a way of travelling in God’s peace into God’s future – a future which is ultimately good and not evil, just and not cruel, light and not shadow – in the midst of anxieties.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (Luke 2: 14).
Fast forward 2011 years – and we have witnessed trauma, too, in our part of the world these past 12 months.
There were the Christchurch earthquakes, of course, the aftermath of the Pike River tragedy, rising sea levels in the Pacific, as well as ongoing political tensions and recession.
And the promise of Christmas remains fresh, and God still comes into fraught scenes through us bringing new justice and new hope. The word becomes flesh as we walk with the one who was born, after a perilous journey, in a stable.
It’s clear, too, that we need to rise above the frenzy of the season’s advertisements. The spirit of Christmas is surely not about spending more on ourselves or on those closest to us.
Rather, it’s a message about a new kind of equity. It’s a message about God’s good will towards every human being, a divine declaration that everyone has the right to live abundantly.
Or as Mary put it when she was pregnant: “He has lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:52-53).
We too can partake of the good things that Mary speaks of – when we share out of our own abundance, when we show generosity and good will to those who find the road to fulfilment is blocked.
St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra (which is in Turkey), who lived in the fourth century AD, understood this.
He believed that the best gift he could give Christ would be to give to those who were oppressed or trapped in poverty.
“He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Luke 4:18).
So Nicholas is said to have given his gold to pay the dowries of three distressed young women – thereby saving them from prostitution.
Legend also has it that he rescued sailors off the coast of Asia Minor, and restored three boys who’d been murdered by a butcher and stuffed into a tub of brine.
Of course, Nicholas is best known as the patron saint of children. He fed them when they were hungry, he healed them when they were ill, and he cared for those who’d been badly treated.
The Dutch began a custom of giving presents to children on St Nicholas’ Day, December 6. They took their custom to America, where their ‘Sint-Niklaas’ morphed into: Santa Claus.
Over time, the custom of presents from Santa Claus became associated with Christmas, rather than St Nicholas’ own feast day.
It’s sad to see how the true spirit of St Nicholas has been lost, and his Christian mission commercialised.
We need, surely, to rediscover the Gospel of love incarnate that Nicholas lived for, by living as he did.
So why don’t we make a start this Christmas?
Why not give a Christmas gift to someone you don’t know?
Why not, for example, take advantage of Christian World Service’s Christmas Appeal which has been endorsed by the Anglican Missions Board?
Or support other relief and development charities which are running Christmas appeals? For example:
However you choose to express the true spirit of Christmas, we pray that you and your families will enjoy a blessed and peaceful festive season.
Archbishop Winston Halapua
Bishop of Polynesia
Archbishop David Moxon
Senior Bishop of the New Zealand Dioceses
Archbishop Brown Turei
Bishop of Aotearoa