If I am a little bit turned upside down this Christmas there is some reason for it. I am recently back from “Down Under” where I met with my counterpart from the Uniting Church in Australia and those in similar roles with the United Church of Christ (U.S.) and the United Reformed Church (Great Britain). When we are together, which doesn’t happen very often, the conversations just go on and on, as we talk about the similar issues we are dealing with in our different places, and learn from one another.
It almost doesn’t matter where we meet – last time was in Vancouver – but it is wonderful to get together in person because connecting by tele- or videoconference presents huge time zone problems. Being in Australia though offered a very different perspective on the Christmas season. Christmas comes in the peak of summer there. I knew that of course, but it is one thing to know it and another thing to experience it. Instead of worrying about snowstorms as they drive to Christmas gatherings or do their shopping, they fuss about how hot it is. Cherries are in season and are a favourite Christmas time treat. And given that it is summer, I began to understand why Australians often barbecue their Christmas dinner instead of putting a turkey in the oven. I have never actually cooked a turkey in July!
Christmas in the summer seems strange to a Canadian, but it was equally strange to find so many of the decorations, songs on the radio, movies etc to be the same winter themed ones that are familiar to us. When we commented that the Christmas hymns and carols all seemed to be the same ones we know, our host Colleen Geyer assured us that there are some lovely Australian carols, and later she sent us the YouTube links to some of her favourites. They are beautiful.
As I think about it, even differences as extreme as summer and winter, as north and south, are superficial compared to the power of the story that centres us all wherever we are in the church. Wherever we are as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, we share in the hope of a world transformed by a baby born in a humble stable.
May God’s love surround you and yours this Christmas, and may you find peace, hope, and joy.
–Nora Sanders is General Secretary of The United Church of Canada.
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