Moderator’s Christmas Message 2023

It’s the time of year for receiving newsy Christmas letters. Here’s mine.

It’s been an eventful year. I concluded a congregational ministry placement I loved at Floreat. We moved house. Travelling to the UK I collapsed on the flight. I came home for tests and an emergency pacemaker insertion in August.

I was installed as Moderator and that night, I also collapsed. After deciding that I was okay enough, I arrived late at the first session of Synod I was chair.

Then last week, I had my first bout of COVID.

It feels as though there have been a few speed bumps this year. Surprising numbers of people I talk to agree with me.

It has been a hard year for many people. economic stresses, housing pressures, social and community conflicts and differences and new family differences which have emerged this year have all taken a toll.

Change. New things. Unforeseen experiences. Unexpected aspects of expected events – all of these are a part of Christmas. Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ know that. Those who are not followers of Jesus Christ may have a very different experience.

In many minds in our community, Christians and churches are questionable. Biblical awareness is diminishing or gone.

Nevertheless, the celebration of the birth of Jesus often still has some resonances. As a result, some who are not usually in church will come along at Christmas. I have prepared a community message which I hope may keep the door open for some of these visitors.

On such occasions, our first calling is to make them welcome, so that they may meet Jesus or begin to learn more so that they can begin an exploration of the significance of Jesus.

Underlying everything I want to say, as we come to Christmas, is the belief that open doors matter. It was this which inspired my message to the public this year.

Jesus mainly taught crowds in public places where people always had a chance to walk away. However, some of these encounters became opportunities for people to seek Jesus in other settings.

May our being with Jesus in ministry this Christmas include inviting visitors with no church family to think again and join us again.

Through all that 2023 has brought, I have been thinking a lot about the words of John Wesley: “The best of all, is God is with us.” It is the best of things.

With every blessing in the name of Jesus, our Lord.

Ian Tozer, Moderator

Moderator’s Christmas Message to the Community

In the traditional story of the birth of Jesus, the basis of Christmas, two words stand out as relevant to believers and non-believers alike: peace and goodwill.

Both seem elusive this year. The world is far from peaceful, and the future seems bleak. There are “battles” in many settings – war and violence overseas, social and political differences characterised by angry exchanges, differences over climate in many places, and conflict at home. Then there are economic battles being fought – with rising costs and financial burdens. Goodwill seems overwhelmed by division and conflict.

Goodwill is a way of living. It may be characterised by patience or kindness or being willing to wait or to show courtesy to a stranger. It is a gift we may offer to anyone: the person serving us in a retail setting, someone in a public place, the driver of a neighbouring vehicle. At least, it might mean not doing anything we wouldn’t want done to us.

Goodwill need not be confined to those who are not well-known to us. It has a place in families and friendship groups. We don’t need to try again to convince a family member we see once a year at a Christmas meal about something we always discuss with no change on either side. Then our goodwill might be characterised by listening to understand the other person’s point of view better and saying little ourselves. Goodwill might be a Christmas gift we offer to those we know and others around us.

Peace might mean choosing to walk away from quarrels or old differences. We don’t need to join every quarrel which comes near us. Peace might mean pausing before we reply or asking, do I need to say this or how will this help? Peace may mean not picking up the weapons offered to us by others.

Goodwill and peace are not simply empty generalities. They may be very real immediate challenges.
The story of the birth of Jesus, as Luke tells it, is an unlikely story. Jesus was not born into lavish, luxurious circumstances. How could the birth of this one in such an unpromising context be of any significance?

Whatever you think of the story of Christmas, one possibility is to ask more about the one whose birth was celebrated. This Jesus, born among the poor and disadvantaged, is a figure who shows that God turns up in the areas of life often overlooked. Jesus had little public profile in his day. His earliest followers hardly counted in the power structures of his world. Luke says Jesus went around doing good.

At a time when the Church is often seen as suspect, many still find value in seeking out what mattered most to Jesus. Jesus lived out care for others: his life, as far as he could control it, was a life of goodwill to people and peace where possible. He invited us to active goodness: to do to others what we would like them to do to us – however they actually respond.

These are precious gifts, worth celebrating, worth sharing.

Rev Dr Ian Tozer, Moderator, Uniting Church Synod of Western Australia

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