December 20th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: A Christmas reflection - Who was Jesus Christ?

HUMAN RIGHTS: Looming threat to our religious freedom

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Turnbull heading a frayed and fractured Opposition

NATIONAL SECURITY: Will Australia heed the lessons of Mumbai?

OPINION: Is David Hicks's cheer squad paying attention?

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Unlocking the riddle of the global financial crisis

BANKING: Bendigo Bank preferred over 'Four Pillars'

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia challenged by US strategic decline

ASIA: China exports recession to Taiwan

POLITICS: Key principles of democratic statesmanship

OBITUARY: Max Teichmann (1924-2008) - Writer, academic and raconteur fondly remembered

BOOKS: HARD JACKA: The Story of a Gallipoli Legend, by Michael Lawriwsky

BOOKS: EKATERINBURG: The Last Days of the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport

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EDITORIAL: A Christmas reflection - Who was Jesus Christ?

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, December 20, 2008

Only in understanding the true meaning of Christmas can we begin to answer the great questions of human existence.

At this time of the year, we set aside our normal day-to-day concerns, whether personal or national, to consider broader matters which give meaning to the great questions of human existence: who am I, and what is the meaning of life?

It is our capacity to ask these questions, which have perplexed mankind since we came on earth, truly separating us from even the most intelligent animals - not brain size or other attributes.

For millennia, human ingenuity has put forward many brilliant and inventive insights into these questions, but I would suggest that it is only in God's revelation that we have a satisfactory answer. Of course, whether one accepts revelation is finally a matter of faith.

The message of the earliest books of the Old Testament is that there is one Almighty God who, at the beginning of time, created the universe: what scientists today call the "big bang". Later he created our world, and later still, he created man, a rational creature, in God's own image. We read that the first man exercised his God-given freedom to defy his creator, and as a result was expelled from the Garden of Eden - a state of happiness - and entered the world we know where there is suffering and evil, as well as joy and goodness.

What is remarkable to me is not the historicity of the Genesis account, but that it accords with what we know and see around us every day: instinctively, one senses it is true.

Who was Jesus?

The New Testament takes all this a stage further. Each of the four Evangelists answers the question: "Who was Jesus Christ?" in slightly differing ways. Matthew's Gospel commences with a narration of Jesus' ancestry, beginning with King David. In other words, Jesus was the fulfilment of God's promise to the Jews.

Mark, who we understand was St Peter's secretary, commences his narrative with Jesus as the man prophesied by John the Baptist. At the time of Mark's writing, many of those who heard him and Peter would have remembered John the Baptist, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

And those who read Mark's account would have remembered John the Baptist's words which referred specifically to the coming of the Messiah: "There comes after me one who is mightier than I, the strap of whose shoes I am unworthy to stoop down and unfasten." What a powerful act of submission!

St Mark tells us that after John the Baptist had baptised Jesus in the Jordan River, "straightaway, coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending on him, and there came a voice from heaven, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'."

In this respect, it is interesting to note that before becoming an apostle of Jesus, Peter (with his brother Andrew), as well as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were probably disciples of John the Baptist, before they were called by Jesus.

At the beginning of his Gospel, St Luke acknowledges that many had previously written accounts of "those matters which have been fulfilled among us", and then he sets out "an orderly account" of Jesus' life, from his infancy to his death, apparently written for the Gentile Christians who at the time were flooding into the Church.

In St Luke's Gospel, Jesus is shown as the Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Luke does not dwell on Jesus as the fulfilment of the Jewish prophecies of the Messiah, the one who would set his people free, but as the saviour of the entire human race.

St John's Gospel presents Jesus in a very different way, as the fulfilment of God's creation: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by him ... in him was life; and the life was the Light of men, and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."

The evangelist does not, however, ignore the specific Jewish context in which Jesus appears. He describes Jesus as the fulfilment of both the historical promise of the Old Testament, and the prophecy of John the Baptist.

St John says, "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John, who came as a witness, to bear witness to the Light, that all men might believe through him.... That was the true Light, who enlightens every man that comes into the world."

Then, in the space of a few sentences, St John beautifully summarises how Jesus answered those ultimate questions.

He writes, "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

"But to as many as did receive him, he gave power to become the sons of God, to those that believe in his name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, full of grace and truth."

That is the essence of what we celebrate at Christmas.

- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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