“When lockdown stripped away so many things that used to fill our lives, we learnt what was important to us: relationships. From Christmas we learn that the most important relationship we can ever have is with Jesus – God unmasked.”
After just two weeks of live services after months of online broadcasts, Hillsong pastor Brian Houston sent a pre-recorded Christmas message, saying that, after a year of the pandemic and recession, God offered joy, a deep comfort and peace that transcended emotional happiness.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, the Reverend Anthony Fisher, said the year had been like no other, a year of anxieties and isolation.
“In dark times, celebrating Christmas can seem out of place. But it was never easy,” he said.
“At the first Christmas, a young woman was forced to give birth in a stable and her baby put in a feeding trough. Then the family fled for their lives.
“In such dark times, Christ’s first coming was experienced as light. Amidst such danger, he was
named Jesus or ‘God saves’. In isolation, they called him Emmanuel, ‘God with us’.”
NSW and ACT Uniting Church Moderator, the Reverend Simon Hansford, said that for some, the latest COVID-19-inspired disruption would be “the last straw, after a year of so much isolation and loneliness, pain and even death”.
“Christmas assures us that God is never distant – even in these times of isolation of social distancing. Jesus is the promise of the not-too-distant God,” he said.
“Our faith declares that God has drawn near to us in Jesus Christ, in a year when proximity has been prohibited.”
The NSW moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Andrew Campbell, said God showed in the birth of Jesus that he was not indifferent to the suffering of the world and that he “offers forgiveness and eternal life so there is a future, and there is hope”.
The Wesley Mission chief executive officer, the Reverend Keith Garner, said this year had been devastating for many people across Australia.
“And whilst we have been physically apart from each other, there has been a growing awareness that we need each other, that we belong together and that our lives and our wellbeing as communities is inextricably bound to one another,” he said.
“The pandemic has highlighted the potential inequities that persist in our so-called ‘lucky country’. And we must face the reality that well over 100,000 Australians still experience homelessness each night.
“So as promising vaccines may bring ‘the beginning of the end’ of the pandemic, this Christmas, let’s commit as Australians to supporting those hardest hit this year, as they will be experiencing the pain of the pandemic for far longer.”
Anna Patty is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald with a focus on higher education. She is a former Workplace Editor, Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.