Commission for Ecumenism & Interfaith Dialogue

Bishop Anthony's Christmas Message 2010


From Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP, Bishop of Parramatta

24 December 2010 

A few years ago a university student from our Diocese of Parramatta took a year off uni and went to Nepal as a volunteer English teacher. She was assigned to a senior high school. As Christmas approached she was aware of whisperings among the students and then discovered that they were trying to work out how to celebrate Christmas for her. They thought there should be a party but weren’t quite sure why. One student came to her after class and said, “We know Christmas is important for you and we know it’s about a god. Is Santa Claus your god?”

Well, who is the God of Christmas? Who is your god at Christmas? Is he the same as the god of Christmas shopping, Christmas office parties, Christmas decorations, the god of Christmas Day gluttony, abandoned Christmas wrapping, the Boxing Day boats and cricket, the long Christmas holidays in the sun?

I suppose my answer is yes and no. Yes, because I don’t want to devalue Christmas cheer, even if it’s sometimes celebrated in less-worthy ways. It’s a good thing that our culture remembers that Jesus’ birthday is worth celebrating. Christians can be proud that the civilisation we built dates itself from the year of His birth, takes a public holiday for the occasion each year, and recognises it with all sorts of celebrations.

But the risk is that we can forget that the word Christmas means Christ’s feast. We can be so caught up in our feast as to forget His, to forget what it’s all about. The commercial Santa can take the place of the Child Jesus and the saints – including the original Santa Claus, St Nicholas, who was a faithful disciple of Jesus, as was our own brand new Aussie saint, Mary MacKillop. We can forget what it is that attracted our forefathers to Christ and His Christmas, and what still draws even non-Christians to this season.

Joy, Love, Peace. These are the highest aspirations and the noblest achievements of human beings. But we easily forget their real meaning, their real cost. All sorts of cut-price imitations are available. What we call happiness and harmony can be uninspired, tired, empty. That’s why we need Christmas every year. We need to recover our hope and our ideals. We need to learn again not only who God is and how to relate to Him, but also who we are and of what we are capable, by God’s power.

But sometimes God seems very far away, so far we doubt his existence or relevance. Sometimes His grandeur provokes our resistance, because it makes us feel puny and threatened. Pope Benedict XVI suggests that this is why God chose to become a child at Christmas. “He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now, this God who has become a child says to us: You can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”

I invite you to come to church this Christmas and bring with you any family and friends who haven’t been for a while and even people who’ve never been to Church. Come yourself and bring others with you so that together we might renew our faith, hope and love – for the world, our families, ourselves.

May God bless you and your loved ones in every way in the holy season ahead and in the new year of grace 2011.

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