Christmas message from Archbishop Philip Freier
Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
10 December 2023
(first published on TMA, The Melbourne Anglican)
Our journey to Christmas this year is a heavy one. World events are distressing with chaos and conflict escalating at a rate beyond our comprehension. It was a different age with different tensions, but the world of Jesus’ birth was not a time of ease or peace. The pax romana, effectively a peace that the Roman Empire forged through the annihilation of their enemies, was still incompletely accomplished throughout the land of Israel. The whole of Jesus’ life was lived in the unfolding shadow of these ancient world events. The journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem was on account of the Roman census, a sign to Israel that they were being incorporated as a defeated people into the Roman Empire. Any romantic notions we have about the Jesus’ birth in the stable of Bethlehem need to be measured against the powerlessness of Joseph and Mary in the face of the demands of their times. The escape of the Holy Family from King Herod’s edicts points to the complexities that are alive in such world events. As always happens, the little and the least in the affairs of the world experience the greatest suffering in these struggles for power and control.
This was the world in which the incarnation of the Son of God took place. Jesus’ birth is at the same time highly contextual but also wonderfully timeless in what it declares about God’s love in a broken world. As we make our journey to Christmas, I hope that we do this with the assurance that God is always present with us in the turmoils of the world.
The Australian community is at this same time making a journey towards the future informed by the negative outcome in the referendum about a First Nations’ Voice. The analysis will undoubtedly continue for some time. Throughout the 120-year history of the Australian Commonwealth, constitutional change has been difficult to achieve with most referendums failing to gain support. I think that there is a danger in our present circumstances of interpreting the referendum result as somehow pointing to an anti-Indigenous consensus in Australian society. There have been some early indications that bipartisan positions at a state level around the country have been abandoned on the basis that “the people have spoken”.
In that light the importance of the Yoorook Justice Commission is significant. Yoorrook’s work is to open up the impact of colonisation on the Traditional Owners and First Peoples of Victoria. It is the most systematic attempt to explore this question so far. I commend to you the materials on the commission’s website as resources to deepen your understanding of this work. It is also important that this work continues to be supported across the divergence of opinion on the referendum.
May you have a blessed Christmas and find the peace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace at work in your heart, your home and your relationships. Starting with ourselves, we seek to extend this gift of God in Christ to a fractured and broken world.