‘Don’t labour on the darkness,’ says archbishop in Christmas message

After a challenging year, church leaders have called for Melburnians to pause and rejoice in the hope of Christmas.

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, said Christmas was never about the festivities.

Worshippers at a Christmas service at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday.Credit:Simon Schluter

"There has been much said about what a ‘COVID Christmas’ will be like, but is that the question we need to be asking? This year has challenged us in ways that have been unimaginable; it has turned our levels of comfort and security on their head," he said.

"And whilst we’ve sought creative ways to engage in our worship and our connections, it’s never been about reinventing something."

While gifts, food and tinsel played a role, Archbishop Comensoli said Christmas was about Jesus.

"When you gather this Christmas, in whatever way that is, don’t labour on the darkness of this year – recall the wonder of that birth and the light by which we can see ahead."

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli at St Patrick’s Cathedral.Credit:Simon Schluter

Worshippers, many in masks, followed social-distancing rules at Christmas Day Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in the CBD.

The two-square-metre rule applies to churches, and attendees were required to check in for the Christmas Mass, which was also streamed online.

Carols, including O Come, All Ye Faithful, were sung, as is allowed at places of worship in Victoria under COVID-19 restrictions.

Melbourne's Anglican Archbishop, Philip Freier, said Christmas was an opportunity to pause and rejoice after a challenging year, starting with bushfires before the pandemic hit Australia.

"At Christmas we particularly celebrate God’s intervention in human history, to save his people, lift them from the miry pit (as the psalmist puts it) and restore us to fellowship with him," he said.

"It is because of this truth that throughout the trials of this year we have nevertheless been able to cling to comfort and joy because of the promises of God and the certainty that he is faithful.

"Comfort and joy is not only the response to overcoming a threat, as Victorians have managed to do with tenacity and mostly goodwill."

The service was streamed online from St Patrick’s for those who could not attend as a result of COVID-19.Credit:Simon Schluter

Victoria and Tasmania Uniting Church Moderator, the Reverend Denise Liersch, said the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem reflected the disconnect people were feeling this Christmas.

“It’s an especial favourite for Blue Christmas services, when we meet together at Christmas with a profound sense of what is not – aware of the disconnect between our real-life experience and the happiness and exultation we’re supposed to feel at Christmas,” she said in a Christmas message earlier this month.

“It seems to acknowledge our fragility, the precariousness of life, the need for humility, and how we reach out in hope from a deep sense of need.”

Reverend Philip Mercer, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, said the Christmas story could be summed up as the triumph of faith over fear.

Many of the worshippers at St Patricks wore masks.Credit:Simon Schluter

"2020 has been a year dominated by fear. But still today, it is central to God’s plan for your blessing and salvation to dispel every touch of fear from your heart and replace it with faith in the all-sufficient saving grace of the Lord Jesus," he said.

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.

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."

With Anna Patty

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