A Christmas message from our President: Called to be a sign of hope

 

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Stuart McMillan, has used his Christmas message to call on all Australians to be signs of hope for people suffering in the world.

Drawing on Matthew’s Gospel, Stuart describes Jesus’ birth as a sign to Christians that God is at work in the world, walking with people, among us in our celebrations of life and in our suffering. Jesus is a sign of hope, and those of us who follow him are to be signs of that hope, bearers of light and love.

In his annual message, Stuart highlights the concern the Uniting Church has for people seeking refuge from violence in places like Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Refugees around the world “continue to face unbearable situations including – to our shame – in our Australian Government detention centres,” said Stuart.

“As Christians, we are called to walk with, sit with, cry with, laugh with, work alongside and listen attentively to others in their times of need and celebration, just as Jesus did.”

The President of Australia’s third largest Christian denomination urges people of all faith and none to spare a thought or share a prayer for people who are suffering at home as well.

“Many of us have loved ones who are suffering in their own way – from mental or physical illness or disability. Many face troubled family situations. Some are suffering intolerance, towards their religion, race or sexual identity,” said Stuart.

“While we often describe Christmas as a season of giving, there are so many who need to receive our love.

“One of the most important gifts you can give to another human being is to be present for them. In this they might sense they are not abandoned or alone, that they are truly loved,” said Stuart.

The message has subtitles in Arabic, Chinese, Fijian, Indonesian, Korean, Samoan and Tongan.

A full transcript of the message is attached below.

 

God with us: A sign of hope

Greetings to you and your loved ones this Christmas from the Uniting Church in Australia. Matthew’s gospel account of Jesus’ birth declares: “They will call him Immanuel, which means, God with us.” This is the fulfilment of the promise of God in the Hebrew Scriptures: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Jesus’ birth is a sign to Christians that God is at work in the world, walking with people, among us in our celebrations of life and in our suffering. Jesus is a sign of hope, and those of us who follow him are to be signs of that hope, bearers of light and love. We are called to walk with, sit with, cry with, laugh with, work alongside and listen attentively to others in their times of need and celebration, just as Jesus did.

This year in the Middle East, Uniting Church ministers have walked alongside the Palestinian people and met with displaced peoples in refugee camps. In a place of unending conflict and distress, in our own small way, we have tried to be a sign of hope.

In Australia our church is seeking to work more interculturally, embracing our growing diversity. First Australians in our Church have invited us more recent arrivals to walk with them, to share each other’s stories of God, and to hear what God was doing in this land before the arrival of the missionaries. We stand with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in their struggle for recognition and justice.

In the multicultural communities that enrich our Church we are cultivating what we call, a “space for grace”, making space for God and space for differing cultural understandings. With our partnerships at home and overseas growing and thriving, we have much reason to rejoice.

At this time of year though, our hearts go first to those suffering pain and loss. Across the world people are fleeing persecution in record numbers, in Syria and Iraq, in South Sudan and across Europe where more than three-quarters of a million people are seeking refuge as winter sets in. Many of these people continue to face unbearable situations, including – to our shame – in our Australian Government detention centres.

Please spare a thought and share a prayer for these people at this time. At home today, many of us have loved ones who are suffering in their own way – from mental or physical illness or disability. Many face troubled family situations. Some are suffering intolerance, towards their religion, race or sexual identity.

While we often describe Christmas as a season of giving, there are so many who need to receive our love. One of the most important gifts you can give to another human being is to be present for them. In this they might sense they are not abandoned or alone, that they are truly loved.

This Christmas and New Year I ask people of all faiths and none to be signs of hope in the world. Let us be present for one another so that there are no strangers, that all people will experience welcome and know that they are valued and loved, for this is God’s grace through Jesus shared among us.

On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia, peace be with you.

Stuart McMillan, president of the Uniting Church in Australia

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