Seemingly every year there’s a mad rush to tie up loose ends at work, shop, party and stress over visiting the relatives. Despite our streets and shops having awesome decorations, Christmas in Australia has become increasingly secular. The most counter-cultural thing you can do is to make this season an opportunity for increasing your spiritual sensitivity.
The Ancient Church, in her great wisdom, established a series of spiritual practices whose aim was to do exactly that. What we most need in modern, secular Australia is to recover an authentic spiritual sensitivity. We need to lay aside the idols of materialism, capitalism, consumerism, economic rationalism and cultural activism. We need to open ourselves to the God of our Fathers: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Drawing on the Ancient Wisdom of the Church, here are ten ways we can put Christ back into Christmas, increase our spiritual sensitivity, and come to truly love our neighbour as ourself.
1. Commit to a season of spiritual sensitivity
The Ancient Church made the forty days leading up to Christmas a time for spiritual reflection. She called the season, “Advent,” which means, “Coming.”
This Advent season, let’s skip the rushing crowds, and spend some quiet time each day in reflection. Reflection, prayer and spiritual reading.
Here’s a suggestion: There is a wonderful book Meditations for Advent that opens up to us the Ancient Church’s hymnography, scripture readings and iconography for the forty days leading up to the Nativity of Christ. It shows how a full understanding of the Incarnation can enrich our spiritual lives.
2. Do something counter-cultural: Fast
With end-of-year parties beginning to ramp up, it’s really hard to escape the silly season without over-indulging. When our bodies become overloaded processing all that food and drink it dulls our capacity to experience God’s presence.
The Ancient Church discovered that the way to truly enjoy a feast is to prepare by fasting. Now fasting doesn’t mean stopping all food. It means to restrict our food choices. By restricting our food choices we lighten the load on our bodies and make us open for prayer.
Here is the Ancient Church's recommendation for how we should eat in the forty days leading up to Christmas. These fasting rules are designed to enable greater spiritual sensitivity.
3. Make it a season of prayer
Let us prayerfully consider all our relationships. It’s a time to make things right with the people around us.
- Have we done anyone wrong?
It’s time to make it right.
- Has anyone done us wrong?
It’s time to forgive and to bless: raise them up in prayer to God to seek their utmost good.
- Have we sought God’s presence?
It’s time to share the secrets of our heart with our Loving Heavenly Father.
Here’s a very simple prayer that has extraordinary spiritual depth:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Pray this prayer. Reflect on it. Understand each word. Let it seep into our lives to see what God has to say to us.
4. Give to those who can’t give back
While exchanging gifts with family and friends is really nice, it has become so commercialised and so routine that we can lose sight of its spiritual significance. Jesus taught us that it is far more blessed to give gifts to people who can’t give back (Luke 14:14).
Here are three suggestions for giving to those who can’t repay us.
- The Barnabus Fund is established to help persecuted Christians in war-torn countries. This weekend The Good Shepherd is forwarding all its donations to the Barnabus Fund. You could join your donation to ours to help people who really are quite disregarded and forgotten on the world stage.
- If you’d like to give to a charity that alleviates the greatest amount of poverty for each dollar spent, we’d recommend you explore any of the partner charities recommended by Effective Altruism Australia. Virtually all charities recommended by Effective Altruism Australia spend their money in the poorest countries of the world, because that’s where poverty can be alleviated most inexpensively. People everywhere are equal in the sight of God.
- If you’d like to help people right here in Australia, the most complex social problem in Australia today is homelessness. Homelessness is often swept under the carpet and has many different causes. But if you want to really help people who have hit rock bottom, helping homeless Australians into homes is a great way to go. We recommend you help Lighthouse Australia end youth homelessness.
5. See the Image of the Father
“God the Father” often gets a bad rap in our society. One recent TV program called Him the “judgiest person on earth.” But the conviction of the Ancient Church is that the Father’s character can be seen in the life and person of Jesus Christ.
Want to know what God is like? Look into the face of Jesus Christ and you’ll find a Christ-like God. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” said Jesus (John 14:9).
This Christmas season, read about the compassion (Luke 7:13), love (Mark 10:21) and mercy (Matthew 8:28–34) that we find in the face of Jesus Christ.
6. Contemplate the Mystery of the Incarnation
The conviction of the Ancient Church is that Jesus is fully God and fully Human. In Jesus we see the union of Divinity and Humanity.
Contemplate this mystery. The Son of God, eternally distinct from creation, entered into creation in order to cleanse it, bless it, sanctify it. And what Christ assumed — i.e. humanity, material creation — He redeemed.
The Ancient Church recited their common conviction that, “for our salvation He came down from heaven.” This means that salvation is far more than Jesus’ death on the cross. The Incarnation wasn’t just the gateway to the cross. The Incarnation — the Life of Christ — is “for our salvation.”
Christ’s life and living taught, healed, and redeemed. Come see, touch and taste. The Lord is good.
7. Know that Jesus is the Light of the world
In the northern hemisphere, Christmas is the time of year when the sun is at its lowest and dullest. Light is a symbol of life and truth. If there is no light, then there is no life and truth. If the light is shielded or dull, then life and truth is weakly revealed.
The Ancient Church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ when the sun was low. By doing so they proclaimed their conviction that Christ is the Light of the World. Once He is Born, the sun grows brighter and brighter.
At The Good Shepherd we represent this conviction every week. During our early morning Matins service, the Church building is dark and lit by candles. But when the Gospel is read — i.e. when the life of Christ enters our Presence — the lights are switched on to symbolise it.
When Christ appears, there is life and light.
8. Look to Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God’s glory
But Australia is not in the northern hemisphere. We’re in the southern hemisphere where the sun shines at its brightest at Christmas-time. We worship and remember Christ’s birth at this time to retain fellowship with all Christians everywhere.
Perhaps we need to re-appropriate the symbolism of Christmas. Here’s a suggestion.
At Christmas-time, the sun is shining at its apex. It is bright and high in the sky reflecting the radiance of the glory of the Son of God (Hebrews 1:3). Christ is the Ultimate revelation of the Holy Trinity. There is no greater light to the world than the Son of God Himself.
There is no person or prophet or movement that better expresses the glory of God than Jesus Christ.
9. Join the Spiritual Celebration
It doesn’t matter whether you come to Church weekly, monthly or never before. Come join our celebration of the Birth of Christ in a thoroughly spiritual setting.
The Good Shepherd follows the convictions, worship and spiritual practices of the Ancient Church. Come and see what the Ancient Church looks like in a modern Australian setting.
In 2017, The Good Shepherd is holding its Nativity celebration on the evening of 24 December, 2017. You’re most welcome to attend, even if you’ve never been before.
We’re beginning by celebrating Matins at 7:30pm, immediately followed by the Nativity Service (approximately 8:30pm, give or take a few minutes).
Following the Nativity Service, we’re having a community feast. When you’ve fully prepared for the season through personal consecration, reflection, fasting, prayer, and gift-giving, according to all the wisdom of the Ancient Church — then you’re ready to feast!
Believe me, the food explodes in your mouth, and your heart bursts forth in praise for God and you feel true connection with family, friends and neighbours.
10. Feast while the world is wasted
While the secular world is feasting and drinking in the forty days leading up to Christmas, the Ancient Church is preparing herself spiritually.
When the Nativity event arrives, it is then that Christians rejoice!
We’ve all heard the Christmas Carol “Twelve days of Christmas,” but most of us don’t know when the twelve days of Christmas are. The twelve days start on Christmas Day and continue for the following twelve days. It is in these twelve days that the Ancient Church feasts.
If you’ve prepared properly, feasting for twelve days’ straight is an absolute blessing.
No one feasts like a properly prepared Christian!
Get the book
- For a deeper appreciation of Jesus Christ, read Fr. Patrick Reardon’s, The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ.
- For a guidebook to the Ancient Church's wisdom during the Advent season, read Meditation for Advent.