The Third Day of Christmas

St John the Evangelist’s Day

‘On the Third Day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Three French Hens!’

The odds are that today you are doing one of three things:

  • Heading back to your shift work after two jam packed public holidays,
  • Settling into a restful weekend as Christmas Day mania wears off, or
  • Putting up some very large tents in the middle of a caravan park as your beach mission gets under way.

Whatever you are up to, we hope that you have an excellent third day of Christmas and that you get a chance to reflect and celebrate Jesus’ birth for us.

Scripture 1 John 1 Prayer St John Sermon Sam Wells Music Sufjan II Make Jesse Tree Poetry Andrew Cooper

The Second Day of Christmas

Boxing Day | St Stephen’s Day

Welcome to the second day of Christmas, known throughout Commonwealth countries as Boxing Day. Although the origins of this medieval term remain unknown, it appears to relate to the collection of money in church alms boxes for the poor (such as Good King Wenceslas of Bohemia who ventured forth in the snow with alms for the poor), and the giving of presents to ones servants and tradespeople. This is, perhaps, unsurprising, given the ecclesiastical connotations of the day. For December 26 is St Stephen’s Day, appointed among the first deacons to distribute food to widows. Yesterday we celebrated the incarnation of God’s Son; today we remember the proto-martyr, the first to die for bearing witness to him.

For Australians, today is a day for sport. The battle taking place on a pitch in Melbourne and yacht’s travail against the waves form the ambient noise as we dine on yesterday’s leftovers with friends and kin, whilst the brave soul ventures out to compete for a bargain in the Boxing Day sales. At it’s best, when the sun is shinning, Boxing Day reminds us that the world is “charged with the grandeur of God”.

But St. Stephen’s Day stops us from falling into complacency; it reminds us that the light has shone in darkness, that God’s beautiful gift of creation has been grasped as a possession. The resources we’ve gathered together for today recall the beauty of God coming to dwell with us, and help us remember the cost of following this child, the Lord of the cosmos who was persecuted right from the beginning.

Scripture Acts 6 7 Prayer St Stephen Sermon C S Lewis Music Sufjan I Poetry Herbert 1 Poetry James Piggott

The First Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!

We hope that your feasting, resting and serving brings many different opportunities to glorify the Lord and grow in him. We hope that God’s people around the world take every opportunity possible this Christmas to share the good news of Jesus with friends and family. We hope that there are lots of warm and welcoming parties and feasts, where we get to receive the things that God has made with thankfulness and share with others. We hope you get some slow time too, sometime over the next twelve days, to sit quietly on your own or with friends, and marvel at the incarnation.

Our collection of resources to help you celebrate continues today with a fresh array of scripture, music and writing. Our first new Christmas poem is published today too: ‘The First Breath In’ by Joanna Hayes. Read the first known Christmas sermon (it’s not very long!) or unwind at the end of a full day to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

However you celebrate the First Day of Christmas, remember to share it with others. And please don’t limit that to social media – share your Christmas celebrations in person, face to face, with the people around you!

Scripture Hebrews 1 Prayer Christmas Day Music Bach Poetry Milton 1 Sermon Chrysostom Poetry Jo Hayes

 

Christmas Eve

The Twelve Days project is about to begin. Over the following twelve days culminating in Epiphany on January 6 we will be providing you with devotional readings, prayers, music, poetry, recipes, craft, and other resources to help you celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ with joy, gladness, and thanksgiving. If you have subscribed, you will receive one email each day which will include links to each of the resources we are highlighting that day. We’ve also compiled a Bible Reading Plan to use throughout the Christmas season.

Today is Christmas Eve. For centuries Christians have gathered together in the evening. We hope that the last four weeks of Advent have stirred up the fires of your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. We turn particularly today to that moment 2000 years ago in Bethlehem when great King David’s greater son was born. Today calls all the faithful to come and adore our Lord who made himself nothing to free us from our sins. Below you will find Bible passages, prayers, and poetry reflecting on the significance of Christ’s first coming. And fittingly, as we celebrate God’s redemption of his creation, you will find an historical reading of the first creation story.

Tomorrow we’ll be launching a special program as part of our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation. Until then, Merry Christmas! and you can share your own experiences of The Christmas Project on social media with #the12daysproject.

Scripture Titus 2 Prayer Christmas Eve Music Page CXVI Poetry Rossetti 1 Sermon Dorothy Sayers Scripture Gen 1

 

Spending Time at Christmas

If there is one thing you are almost guaranteed to hear this Christmas season besides covers of Jingle Bells endlessly on repeat in Westfield is a railing against materialism. ‘Tis the season. After all, the amount of money that will be spent, and the amount of plastic that will produced is beyond conception. It can be overwhelming to come home on Christmas night and take in the amount of junk that has been brought forth.

Is materialism really the problem though? What if our malaise has been misdiagnosed? What if the heart of our problem lay not in materialism, but the lack of it. This is the conundrum of much of the Western world according to American theologian William T. Cavanaugh:

‘What really characterises consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things.’ – William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.

On the macro level, Cavanaugh argues that the GFC was caused, not by materialism, but the desire to transcend material, corporeal constraints like factories in favour of intangible financial assets. On the more subjective and personal level, the reason you end up with a pile of plastic on the evening of December 25 is not because is not because we love stuff; rather, we don’t love stuff enough. We see it as disposable and insignificant.

The gospel tells a different story. It says that God created this world not out of scarcity, but out of the abundance of his love. For this reason every good part of creation is to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4.1-5). In fact, Paul’s charge to the rich via Timothy is that our riches are not for our certainty, but given by God for our enjoyment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow will you celebrate Christmas this year? This is not so much a question of the emotions – for the consideration of the emotions alone leads to mere sentimentalism – but of the affections. How will the content of the Christmas festivities shape your celebration? The guiding maxim of the early church Fathers is helpful at this point. They argued that the unassumed is the unhealed; that is, if Christ is the salvation and restoration of humanity (and all of creation), then he must, of necessity have become truly human. This wonder of the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate at Christmas profoundly shapes how we celebrate. Because God has not abandoned his creation to absurdity and nothingness, we are able to delight in his creation. Not for its own sake, but to receive it as a gift, with thanksgiving. It enables us to give abundantly at Christmas, just as God has given abundantly to us. You would want to do this wisely, appreciating the creation rather than contributing to its denigration. But apprehending this truth drives from our heart the miserly spirit which can neither give nor receive. The gift of God’s Son reminds us that everything it is to be gratuitously received as a gift from the maker and redeemer of all things.

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The Twelve Days of Christmas

Is it my fault that the first eight days is basically thirty birds?
– Andy Bernard, The Office

We know the twelve days of Christmas like the back of our hand: turtle-doves and geese, milkmaids and lords, pipers and drummers and a pear tree. It’s a song we sing as Christmas approaches and, like all other Christmas songs, we are absolutely ready to stop singing it by the time we get to December 25.

Title page from the first known publication of “The 12 days of Christmas” in 1780.

This may come as a surprise to some of us: English-speaking people having been singing this song for centuries but we only started singing it before Christmas very recently! The First Day of Christmas is Christmas Day. It’s a song about the days passing from December 25 through to January 5.

This twelve day period, comprising Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, the most important cricket matches and the most popular holiday time for Australian workers, this twelve day period is Christmas.

I’m not exactly sure when contemporary western society decided to change the Twelve Days of Christmas into the twelve days leading up to Christmas. My suspicion is it has a lot to do with the way that our retail sector depends on mad-shopping-rushes and the urgency of buying Christmas gifts at premium prices. It doesn’t do retailers much good if Christmas celebrations are dragged out over almost a fortnight after Christmas Day – we could wait to buy all our gifts in the Boxing Day sales! This year we are going to try and celebrate Christmas the old fashioned way – slowly, calmly and drawn out over two weeks. We are going to take a whole twelve days to reflect on the mystery and glory of Jesus’ incarnation; we are going to spend a whole twelve days celebrating his salvation.

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Advent: Preparation for Christmas

The shopping centres are full, the evenings are full, about the only thing that isn’t full is your bank account, as the digital cash speedily moves into the coffers of one store after another. It’s December, and amidst the crowded shops packed with giant nutcrackers, where The First Nöel plays on repeat, when there is a continuous stream of parties – one after another, and you feel the stress of buying a gift for that family member you haven’t seen since last Christmas, you can find yourself pretty hard pressed to have any time to be still, breathe, and reflect. It is amidst this season, when our time feels so scarce, that Advent teaches us to watch, to wait, and to hope for the coming of the one who makes all things new.

Advent is the missing piece to a lot of Christmas celebrations today. It’s a season that recalls Israel’s longing in the depths of captivity for God to come and be King. It reminds us that the first coming of Christ came as God’s answer to that expectation, and teaches us that the true celebration of Emmanuel – God with us – is done by looking to the day when Christ will come again. Whereas Jesus’ first coming was in humility – born in a manger, forced to flee as a refugee – the Church Fathers taught that his second coming would be in glory.

Caught as we are in this period of now and not yet between the two advents of Christ, the season of Advent questions our longings and dreams in light of this reality. Over the four weeks prior to Christmas, we hear again of prophecies foretelling the coming of God amongst us. By being immersed in this story, Advent gives us the space, the time, to re-examine the desires of our heart and realign them with God’s coming kingdom. These four weeks teach us to patiently waiting for the appearing of the Son, and to discontentedly long for a satisfaction that only he can provide. The readings from Scripture, the prayers from the church past and present are aimed to produce settled habits and practices that are drenched in the grace of God.

Below you will find links to Advent resources to help us mark the time in preparation for Christmas, and prepare our hearts to wait.

Advent Antiphons Advent Calendar Advent Wreath Advent Scripture Advent Cyril Advent Sufjan

“In him the day of our deliverance has dawned. We rejoice that through him you make all things new and we look for his coming in power to judge the world.”

– An Australian Prayer Book

Making an Advent Wreath

Wreath 11

Each year households around the world prepare wreaths for Advent. Some people fill their wreath with candles to light week by week; others hang them around their home. Our usual custom is to mark time during advent with a calendar rather than a wreath and candles, so we use our wreath to adorn our door in the lead up to Christmas.

Freshly made wreaths don’t seem to be very popular in Sydney. It makes sense in this climate. Keeping a floral arrangement out of water in the early summer heat, even for a couple of hours, leads to tragically quick wilting. However it’s an aesthetic we’ve decided to embrace as sign of this season of waiting. Flowers are beautiful but their glory is fleeting. We are waiting for the time that the Lord will return and free us from slavery to sin and death.

The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Isaiah 40:8

So for the last couple of years we’ve been making wreaths out of hardy Australian natives. They look beautiful freshly picked, and… well, less beautiful but still kind of OK a month later when we walk through the door on Christmas Eve.

Come with us on our wreath-making adventure this year and learn how to make your own.

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An Introduction to the Christmas Project

For several years we struggled with the season of Christmas. It wasn’t only the creeping commercialisation brought decorations and carols into stores earlier and earlier each year. It was also the flagrant excess that we saw played out in lives of people around us: the over-eating and the ever increasing amount of plastic stuff that managed to accumulate in our house at the end of each year. Christmas seemed to encourage all kinds of waste.

That was until a few years ago, when we started to observe Advent. December had been the month of frantic parties and visits to shopping malls, the month when our time felt the scarcest, but Advent taught us the habits of patient watching, waiting, and hoping. It reminded us that our times are in the hands of the one who will make all things new.

Advent teaches us to long for the appearing of the Kingdom of God; it trains our heart to long for the second coming of Christ by looking at his first. It is his first coming that Christmas celebrates, a foretaste of the feast that will come. It is a celebration of the great news that God has not abandoned his creation to sin and death. The one who made the world and holds it together becomes a weak, vulnerable, human. This is the wonder of the incarnation – that all the fullness of God should dwell in this man. As Irenaeus wrote in the second century:

“He was born by his own created order which he himself bears.”

Out of this great news that God is with us, Christmas brings three alternatives to consumption and accumulation that run riot at this time of year.

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