A long time ago in a Galilee far, far away… A new hope awakens…

Thirty eight years ago on 2th May, 1977 my whole world changed. No, it wasn’t the day that I made a commitment to Jesus…it was the day that the original Star Wars movie – A New Hope – was released. I remember watching it in a packed theatre at Nambucca Heads. It was a story of good overcoming over evil; of a young man from humble beginnings whose life affected the whole of the universe…but it was also the story of overcoming personal setbacks and temptation to achieve redemption for those around him.

Apart from the new age under currents to the story – the original Star Wars has been said to be the story of a generation. Fifteen years ago the franchise produced the prequel trilogy that caught the attention of another generation and now…after a wait of more than 30 years since the ‘Return of the Jedi’, the movie, ‘The Force Awakens’ will reconnect the story with a whole new generation. The amazing thing about this film franchise is that it is a story that appeals to all generations. Journalist propose that no other story before or since has such a wide appeal. However, I would like to suggest that there is one story that continues that is bigger than Star Wars…the coming of Jesus at Christmas!! It is the original story of redemption that has never been superseded and is still as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.

What a headline! God sends his son to become a man; a humble birth…a simple life…without the trappings of power and wealth. He walks anonymously through his childhood and early adult life only to burst onto the pages of history – with the acknowledgement from God that he is God’s son and we should listen to him. His rise in popularity is accompanied by his refusal to be manipulated by anyone’s expectations, except his father’s will. He spoke with authority; his power was astonishing; his compassion all-encompassing and love self-sacrificial. We celebrate his birth because of what he did as an adult…it’s a celebration in hindsight – looking back we can see God’s hand in bringing about the culmination of a grand plan. But at the time few, apart from some lowly shepherds, some foreigner wise men and two elderly people knew anything. If Mary hadn’t kept these things in her heart and meditated on them, what would we know of the Christmas story today?

What we do know is that from that day we were given a gift that is for all generations for all time; a gift of love and a hope that gives us confidence to deal with all of life’s twists and turns. What a wonderful story…but it’s more than a story, it’s the truth and the truth will set you free. But you have to do something with the gift, you’ve got to receive it and unwrap it and use it. You can’t leave this story on the shelf to dust off once a year. If you truly receive the gift of Christ and believe in him then your life is changed…he is Emmanuel (God with us)…he never leaves you and he is always there to guide you, protect you and empower you to make a difference in our world, one person at a time.

God bless you this Christmas,

Tim Winslade

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Unspeakable Joy

What’s your favourite Christmas hymn? Is it ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Away in a manger’ – or could it  possibly be ‘O Come all ye faithful’…as we acknowledge the mystery and mission of Jesus who entered our human existence, with little pomp and ceremony…a displaced person, far from his parents’ home. For me, I like ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come – let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room.’ So here’s the first question, have you prepared room in your heart for Jesus this Christmas?

Last week I talked about some practical ways that we could keep the Christ in Christmas this year. How have you done? I chose to forgive someone as a gift to God – and I feel much better. Luke 6:37 says to forgive and you will be forgiven…it goes on to say the measure that you give to others is the measure that you get back. People often say that Christmas is about giving…but in focusing in on the giving gifts we often forget about the giver.

Do you remember your childhood when you were so excited about Christmas that couldn’t sleep? When Christmas came and you got to open your presents, do you remember the joy that you felt in receiving a special gift – or the joy that you received watching others as they were excited about the gift that you had given. Joy…it’s a little word with a BIG impact. When we are excited we celebrate the good thing that has brought us happiness – we rejoice.

What have we been given by God that worth getting excited about? Today’s passage in Zephaniah 3:14 starts off by reminding us to rejoice in God, no matter what our circumstances because God gift to us all is more than matched by any circumstances that we might be going through. Psalm 30:5 says that weeping and pain lasts the night, but joy comes in the morning. Like the Israelites of old, exiled from their homeland, God promises to give a hope and future to the faithful. However, often in the darkness of our distress, hope seems far away. Psalm 126:5 says ‘those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy’.

As we reflect on the hope that we have in Christ we are reminded that our joy is not based on circumstances, but in a relationship with God whose arrival into our lives gives us both a present and a future hope. However, many people in church lack the joy for life that should be characteristic of our confession of faith and desire to follow the example of Jesus. Nehemiah 8:10 says that ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’…the Bible is full of references to joy and joyfulness, yet us church people are often so lacking in joy and enthusiasm for what God has done, is doing and will do, that we only perpetuate the perception of those outside that church is dull and boring.

This should be the furthest from the truth. We have so much to thankful for; so much to be grateful for; so much to celebrate; that we should be known for our infectious joy. So, let’s make this Christmas a real celebration of the Christ’s redemptive act in our lives…and pass on that unspeakable joy to those around us.

God bless,

Tim Winslade

Keeping Christ in Christmas

I was reading an article about a recent study in Europe that found that Christmas made most people miserable and that they enjoyed lower feelings of quality of life in the lead up to Christmas day, except if you were a Christian! That’s right, this study found that those who were Christians and had a deep sense of religiousness celebrated Christmas differently than the majority of non-Christians and as a result were less prone to become absorbed in the consumerism that precedes this special holiday.

Now you are probably thinking that we did not need a survey to tell us that. But it does show us that without Christ as the central focus of Christmas, Christmas is just another day…a family celebration; a holiday; a day of gift giving…of overeating…without the Christ in Christmas we are left with very little to celebrate. So in our secular society, that has substituted the greatest gift of all with a jolly fat elf in a Santa suit…it’s no surprise that Christmas has lost much of its meaning.

So how can we buck the trend? How do we confirm our commitment to keep Christ in Christmas and not get caught up with the stresses and pressures that flood our lives at this time of year? Keeping Christ in Christmas is not about whether we say Merry Christmas, or give gifts…it’s about the way we live. Keeping Christ in Christmas starts with knowing Jesus, and in response to God’s great gift to us challenges us to do things differently to the ways of the world. So what can we do that sets us apart? What can we do that makes us different?

We celebrate Christ’s birth…either Christmas Eve or Christmas day…but there must be more that we can do than go to a special church service! Why not give God a special gift this Christmas? But what could the King of the Universe possibly want that we could give? God has very simple tastes – he just wants us to give of ourselves. But when we give, it needs to cost us something – it needs to be a sacrifice. Why not chose to forgive someone….and when you do you might discover that it’s a gift that gives right back. Jesus said, give and it will be given to you, forgive and you will forgive…the measure we use for others is the measure that God uses for us.

How about spending more time with God across this time…rather than saying, “I’m too busy”, give God some quality time each day and you will find your focus on time will change…and may just get a lot more done along the way! How about sitting down with your family and friends and read through the Christmas story as devotions for Christmas Eve or Christmas day? Or you could do a kindness project, for someone in genuine need (involve your whole family if you can)…it’s God’s kindness that bring us to the place where we recognise our need to repent and turn to follow Jesus. So in showing kindness to others out of love for God, we sow seeds mercy, generosity and compassion in the lives of others.

There are so many ways that we can put the focus back on Jesus Christ this Christmas. We have a reason to celebrate…so let’s keep our focus on what is the true gift…and keep the Christ in Christmas.

God bless,

Tim Winslade