Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Christmas Message from the President

Greetings on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia to you and your loved ones this Christmas.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace and goodwill among all people.” (Luke 2:14)

With these words still ringing in their ears the little group of shepherds set off for Bethlehem to see for themselves the child whose birth attracted angels.

It was a short journey but, in its own way, epic.

The Christmas story is all about journeys.

Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The shepherds’ journey from the fields to the manger.

The magi's journey from the East, following a star.

The new family’s journey escaping from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then onwards from Egypt to Nazareth.

Jesus' journey from his baptism in the Jordan to Galilee, from Galilee up to Jerusalem.

The Gospel's journey from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

An amazing series of journeys – all part of one bigger journey, of love, sacrifice and salvation. 

Over this Christmas season, as scattered families and friends take the journeys that will bring them back together for the annual reunion. I hope you have time to think about your own journey; this year and over the course of your life.

For my own part I’ve been very lucky to meet many inspiring people this year, people who’ve had their own amazing journeys.

In Nanjing, a Chinese church leader told me about growing up in a Christian family during the Cultural Revolution - with all its difficulty and danger. About the joy of discovering how the church had actually grown in its time of hiding and about the new ways that have now opened up for her and that thriving church to witness to Christ and serve people in need in today's China.

On the way to Melbourne airport a taxi driver told me about his escape from danger on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, about the new life he's found in Australia, about the Muslim community he's part of and the way it helps him recover from his trauma and live positively in his new homeland.

In Darwin a couple in ministry told me about the driving holiday they took to get there from Esperance – dropping in on communities they'd served over the years, accepting outback hospitality, renewing old friendships and enjoying a deepening sense of gratitude for the life they'd been called to all those years ago.

Watching the magpies, farming the grassy slopes of the Adelaide Hills, an Aboriginal elder from Arnhem Land told me about a lifetime spent in one place quietly teaching the missionaries and balanda support workers who came and went how to be actually helpful in their ministries with Aboriginal communities.

Partly by getting to understand Aboriginal culture and practices and especially by getting to understand themselves; their own frailties and strengths.

Everyone's on a journey. And the best journeys are taken mindfully and in company.

I hope that your journey this year has been safe and fulfilling and that, like me, you’ve enjoyed the welcome of friends and strangers.

Sadly I know that’s not the case for everyone. In fact some journeys have been bitter, painful and disappointing. Not everyone has been made to feel welcome in our country. If that sounds like your year please take heart! You are never alone on your journey. God is with you, constantly reaching out to you in love.

For our part, the Uniting Church aims to be a place of welcome and inclusion in your community. Our calling is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people in distress as best we can, when they need it.

We don’t always succeed but our invitation to community is always there – whether or not you’re a person of faith. I invite you to drop into your local Uniting Church, meet some of your neighbours there, and find out more about the kind of activities our congregations are involved in.

Whatever your journey, sharing it with others will make your burdens lighter and your joys even more joyous. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured all are honoured together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

Thank you for listening and I wish you all a safe, happy and blessed Christmas. 

View the video here: