Unwrapping Jesus

Over this festive period I am sure there will be countless ‘true meaning of
Christmas’ blogs. People will talk about an idealistic birth that is
disappearing in a sea of red suited gluttony, loneliness, stress and debt.
Christmas is now famous for excess and marital disharmony. It is a great
time to grab a bargain as marriages and partnerships collapse under the
strain of modern life. Christian organisations battle to be heard over the
noise of Christmas love songs, supermarket battles and TV ratings. Give they
say…give to each other …give to the poor, give to the orphans, the
homeless…the list is endless and all this is great and good and true but
is Christmas just about giving?

Its true that Christians celebrate Gods gift of Jesus, the ultimate love
gift.This love gift came wrapped in the form of a homeless illegitimate
child. His family became refugees due to a bloody dictator. He failed to
gain any degrees or accolades at bible school and worked until he was about
30 years old supporting his family. He gained nothing from his three year
ministry but a band of mismatched believers who failed to understand what
was going on until inspired by the Holy Spirit after it had all happened.
His simple life cut short because of pride, prejudice and hypocrisy.
Religion at its worst. Or so it appeared.

His death and resurrection were actually the ultimate Christmas present!
When we unwrap Jesus it is not giving we find but for-giving. His dying
words.. ‘father forgive them’. His life and resurrection…forgiveness in
action. He came so that we might live.

This is a present that it totally affordable, and comes with the added
benefits of improved stress levels, freedom, joy and peace. It is available
to us and for immediate use by us. So why do so few people unwrap this
present at Christmas? Is it the comfort of pride, or the lie that forgiving
is too painful and will cost to much? The cost of unforgiveness is stress,
loneliness, pain, ill health, and division. In deciding to forgive we gain
life, health and peace. Forgiveness is a free gift wrapped in Jesus with
unlimited benefits. There are no austerity measures, hidden clauses, small
print or late payment fees. Jesus came so that we could live. Really live.
Why not try unwrapping Jesus this Christmas?

Jane Reynolds

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Christmas Around the World: Hong Kong, Ukraine & Malawi

Christmas in Hong Kong

Although there is a large number of Christians in Hong Kong, there is a lack of large scale Christmas events that focus on the story of Jesus or anything of Christianity. The Chinese are a very family-focused people, and so Christmas became a good opportunity to be reunited and spend time with family and relatives. Thus it is not uncommon to see a table at restaurant with over 40 seatings.

Students at this time of year will be busy with studying/revision, due to the mid-term exams. (Exams starting from an average primary school can be quite difficult. )

Kelwyn Kwan

 

Christmas in Ukraine
 
These are the traditions of western and central parts of Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine was under the strong influence of communists. That is why people in eastern Ukraine celebrate the New Year more. Christmas is mostly celebrated in villages.
Christmas is a wonderful holiday, it’s a feast of Christ’s birth and it’s celebrated on the eve of 7th of January. In the mid-4th century it was established by the Roman Catholic church as a separate feast and was celebrated on 25 December according to the Julian calendar. In the 10th century with the introduction of the Christianity into Russia it was fused with the local pagan celebrations of the sun’s return or the commencement of the agricultural year. In some areas the pre-Christian name of the feast — Koliada – was used. Christmas Eve is considered as the most interesting part of Christmas as it has ritual and magical acts aimed at ensuring a good harvest and a life of plenty. Caroling is a characteristic feature of the feast, it expresses respect for the master of the house and his children, and sometimes it’s accompanied by a puppet theatre (vertep). The religious festival lasts three days and involves Christmas liturgies, caroling, visiting and entertaining relatives and acquaintances. The Christmas tree was adopted from Western Europe, but today it’s the element of the New Year celebration in Ukraine.
The “holy supper” on Christmas Eve is a meal of 12 ritual meatless and milkless dishes. The order of the dishes and dishes themselves aren’t uniform everywhere. In the Hutsul region, for example, the dishes were served in the following order: beans, fish, boiled potato, dumplings, cabbage rolls, kutya, potatoes mashed with garlic, stewed fruit, plums with beans and some other dishes.

Christmas is the holiday when all members of the family gather together. This is the holiday of joy. Comparatively with Great Britain and some other countries Ukrainian people don’t exchange presents on this holiday. For many years only religious people observed this holiday, but today it’s an official state holiday. Children like to have fun on this holiday, they go from door to door, sing carols and people give sweets to them. As was already mentioned, «Kutya» is a traditional Ukrainian Christmas dish. It’s cooked by mothers and godchildren take it to their godparents. Although this holiday appeared long ago, nowadays many people still like to go church and listen to Christmas sermons.
Eugene Kupin
Eugene visited Hope Church recently.  He leads ‘The Truth’ church, Lugansk, Ukraine,  part of our Catalyst Network of churches.

Christmas in Malawi

All my family and cousins, Aunts & Uncles would come to one house, bring food and share together.  My parents would bring presents and give us money to buy things.  We used to wear new clothes on Christmas Day.   I liked everyone together, all the families at church on Christmas Day.  That’s the only thing I miss – it’s still weird for me not to go to church on Christmas Day – so weird…

Angela Butler.

Christmas Around the World: China & India

I am from a small town from Guangdong province in China. It was about 7 years ago, that a small amount of people began to celebrate Christmas, mainly young people. And their celebration is a lot simpler compared with the UK. For example, they might wear a Santa’s hat in a restaurant or you might see a Christmas tree with lights in some shops. Most people will not think about going to church during the Christmas period and it is unusual to see a family with some Christmas decorations or celebrations in their house. The students usually will go back to their schools on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Qiu Zi Pan Guobao

newsheet 2013 12 Qiu

Christmas in India is considered as one of the major festivals in the metropolitan cities. Even though the essence of Christmas is not realised very much, people celebrate this day in various ways by partying, baking cakes and buying gifts or presenting a cake, etc. During this time people can be expected at home anytime from the Christmas eve till the Christmas day. Most of them would bring with them a plum cake and the cities around would have the smell of the plum / fruit cakes lingering in the air. Christians in the church would go for carolling from house to house or even in their neighbourhood or certain places of their choice. Some of them would consider this as an opportunity to evangelise about the love of Christ and invite non-Christians to the church for the Christmas service. Its a blessed day and people look forward every year towards this day.

Leeba Mary Eapen

Leeba

Reflections on Sex and Relationships!

I have been thinking recently about sex, and if various surveys are to be believed, so have you! We think a lot about it, but as churches we don’t say much about it and what we do say tends to be negative. So instead of giving a list of prohibitions about sex I want to talk as positively about the subject as I can. I want to try to paint an alternative, positive healthy Christian view of sex and relationships to challenge the prevailing dominant view of society!

Sexual freedom.

A basic assumption our society makes is that freedom, including sexual freedom is a right. Sexual freedom has a number of side effects. One of the major issues facing contemporary culture is that of loneliness, in my experience many people are chronically lonely. Having sex without committing our lives to one another typically leads to chronic loneliness and a sense of being used.  Sex stops being something that unites people in binding community; it becomes a commodity for exchange.

Sex is designed by God himself, not as a means of self-gratification but as a means of giving of one’s self to create a stable human community. Sexuality is supposed to reflect the self-giving of Christ. He gave himself completely, without conditions. We are not to seek intimacy while holding back the rest of our lives. If we give ourselves sexually, we are also to give ourselves legally, socially, and personally. Sex, when shared in a totally committed, permanent relationship of marriage is as the maker intended!

Sexual addiction and lust.

One writer I came across says “sexual freedom is more accurately described as sexual addiction.” Sexual addiction and lust go together; men and women look at each other as objects. We need to neither indulge our lustful thoughts nor repress them.  We need to appreciate the full beauty of the other person whilst recognising that our hearts can become twisted resulting in a desire to use another person for our own selfishness. We need to move beyond lust to healthy relationships that doesn’t see others as commodities! Healthy relationships are impossible when lust gets in the way.

Consumer relationships.

Increasingly the rules of the market place are applied to our personal relationships, creating consumer relationships. Relationships are therefore maintained only as we get the goods and services we want at a reasonable price. There is no obligation for the consumer to stay in a relationship if it is not profitable. People are therefore free to sever family and relational ties if they are not emotionally fulfilling for them. This again adds to the sense of isolation and loneliness.

An alternative basis for personal relationships is a loving commitment to the good of the other person and the relationship itself.

The Bible has much to say about sex and healthy relationships that our society desperately needs to hear.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.