Newsletter 18 December 2020 | Christmas: Please celebrate!

By Rev. Richard Baird

Christmas is a Christian holiday.  I’m celebrating Christmas because I am a Christian who believes the miracle of the Incarnation is truly worth celebrating.  I’m celebrating Christmas because Scripture celebrates it.  From Old Testament prophecies which reveal excitement at the coming Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7 is pregnant with joy at the prospect of the coming child), through to John the Baptist leaping with joy when he encounters his cousin (Luke 1:41), the Magnificat of Mary, the angels praising God in the presence of the shepherds, through to the Wise Men bringing expensive gifts to the toddler Jesus: all of this reveals a celebration of the Incarnation and subsequently a reason to celebrate.

Every year at Christmas you also hear of Christians who declare they won’t be celebrating Christmas because it is a pagan festival.  The argument goes that Christmas was originally a winter solstice festival (Saturnalia), and that in 274 the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. It is understood that Christmas is really just an adaptation of these pagan festivals in which Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christianity and Christmas throughout the Roman world.

If that is the case, they did a good job.  Why do I say that? Simply because if this is true, then Christians engaged in good missional practice by seizing a gospel opportunity and were so successful that in our culture today Christmas is not associated with pagan origins, but Christianity. 

For example, if you click on the latest Google Doodle, it will lead you to an article on the various holidays celebrated over the Christmas period.  Take note of how Christmas is described:

“For most of the world, Christmas takes place on December 25, serving for Christians as a celebration of Jesus’s birth, while many others take it as an opportunity to give gifts of appreciation to friends and family. Interestingly, in some traditions around the globe, Christmas is not a December holiday, but actually falls on January 6, 7, or even as late as January 19.”

In our day, I think it would be more accurate to describe Christmas not as a festival with pagan origins, but a Christian festival which has been heavily secularised – in fact, one could legitimately speak of two Christmas celebrations: the Christian one which focuses on the miracle of the incarnation, and the secular one which leaves Christ out, but ironically still celebrates the Christian virtue of love through giving focus to family, friends, and generosity. 

My personal theory as to why Christmas is so popular is because it’s the one time God seems manageable…after all He is a baby in the manger.  Having said that, the secular expressions of Christmas also reveal to us that the world is indeed hungry for meaning, which only Christ can provide.  Christmas still remains a marvellous gospel opportunity because you will still find non-Christians willing to attend Christian Christmas services such as a carol by candlelight service.  In this vein, you may even want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas where my favourite scene is Charlie Brown crying out about what is the true meaning of Christmas, and you have Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14 in response!

I do love Christmas, because I as a Christian simply love and marvel at what it represents: the incarnation of God, knowing that the purpose of Christmas is in fact Calvary.  I believe in the redemptive power of the Gospel to transform cultural traditions, and I believe we need to promote Christmas as a powerful gospel opportunity.  Ultimately each child of God must make up their own mind in the spirit of Romans 14.  God has accepted the child of God who celebrates it, as well as the child of God who doesn’t.

THREE Giant Oaks have fallen this past week, these are the tributes given by family members, as we give glory to God for the lives of Revd Patrick Herbert, Michael Stapp and Bill Udemans. May your perpetual light shine upon them and their families.

Tribute to Patrick Herbert
From his elder daughter, Sue Holleman.

The Anglican funeral service says that we should not so much exalt the virtues of the person who has died, as point to the loving mercy of our God. Dad would have it no other way, although he would not have minded a few complimentary words along the way.

Dad was a man of FAITH: His faith was steadfast and was prepared to step into the unknown: a newfound faith in London, a growing faith with mum and Young Marrieds in Cape Town; training for the ministry with his young family in Grahamstown. His faith was evident in his Quiet times at 5:30 every morning, in morning prayers with Stephen before school, in his blessing of his children before they went to sleep, in the gift of a Bible to Daniel, in his continued prayers for all of us children, spouses, grandchildren and extended family; and in his conviction of the privilege he had been given to officiate at Communion as an Anglican Priest. He was convinced that he was a beloved child of God and his life was in God’s hands.

Dad was a man of HOPE: When cancer struck in 2014, Dad was convinced all would be well, his traveling days were not over. When life was difficult, his hope was in the Lord would provide for all his and his family’s needs – and the Lord ALWAYS provided! In his last days, Dad placed his hope in His God taking him home. He was ready.

Dad was a man of LOVE: Love for his wife, children, spouses, grandchildren, sisters, nieces and their families. But also love for his doggies (so special to him). Love for friends and love for his hobby and talent. This hobby of woodworking brought him so much pleasure (and quite a few cuts and bruises)  – seeing a creation emerging out of a block of wood. He was generous too in sharing these creations – our homes are filled with them. Many of you too have a bowl or candlesticks or something else made by Dad. Most of all his love was for his God. Not expressed in big gestures, but in his gentle, humorous, kind spirit.

And so this faith, hope and love of Dad for his God, is also our legacy and belief.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” 1 Corinthians 13: 12, 13

Tribute to Alfred William Udemans – known as Bill
From his youngest son Kevin Udemans.

Son of Alfred Udemans and Frances (Van der Westhuizen) Udemans
Born in Durban on 24 January 1933 – aged 87 at passing
The youngest of five children – Step Brothers Phillip and Dick, Brother Victor and Sister Rachel – he grew up in Sherlock Street, Central, Port Elizabeth, and attended North End Grey before matriculating from Grey High School.
He worked at the Divisional Council and then later for Savage and Lovemore, Manthe Construction, Cementation before joining the Port Elizabeth Municipality City Engineers Department in the Contracts Division.
He met and Maureen Jean Maguire around the time he was working for the Divisional Council and they married on 13 September 1958.
With marriage came eight sisters-in-law on the Maguire side (four surviving) and two sisters-in-law on the Udemans side.
Bill and Maureen had three sons – Grant (1959), Gary (1962) and Kevin (1964). He has had four daughters-in-law and over time he would have had 10 grandchildren, some “step” grandchildren.

His earlier work life was characterised by contracts in outlying areas and he spent time with his wife and young family in South West Africa, Bechuanaland, Western Cape, Northern Cape. During this time his family met and became friends with some other current St John’s parishioners including Enid Lovemore and Prinea MacGillivray.
He was a handyman who took on ambitious projects ranging from home improvements, sailing boats to realistic-looking mock double basses for kid’s school plays and toy castles for St John’s Church Fetes. His garage was one of this favourite places. His love for DIY was inherited from his carpenter father.

Forever the adventurer along with Maureen. In their late 40s they both got their motorbike licences and purchased a motorbike and travelled as far north as the Lowveld. Our mother still reminds us that her motorbike licence remains valid. Around the same time they also completed a few Fish River Canyon hikes in Namibia and started doing a lot of local hiking in preparation for the Fish River events.

All family holidays involved loading up the car and heading on an adventure to all corners of the country. And, it was not unusual for them, until quite recently, to hop into the car and head off to the Kalahari with their Polo and Trailer. Dad enjoyed fishing, although he did not do enough of it.
Following his retirement they travelled to Europe for their first overseas vacation and he also later celebrated his 70th birthday in Saudi Arabia in a trip that took them via Dubai. He continued working beyond retirement as site engineer for projects involving road upgrades and RPD housing audits in various parts and other remote areas in the Eastern Cape. He loved his work and he worked hard.
Van Staden’s River Bridge, Shark Rock’s Pier, Orange/Fish Tunnel are some of the projects he was involved with and they serve as constant reminders of him to his family.

Tribute to Michael Stapp
From his brother Peter Stapp.

Michael was born in the little village of Solihull in the midlands of England, just east of Birmingham on the 5 June 1938. With the Second World War on the horizon, this lead to difficult time for young Michael as my father was to spend five years in North Africa with the R.A.F.
When the war was over my family decided to emmigrate to South Africa to enable my father to set up a brushware factory for the Harris family. The journey by air in a Skymaster D.C. 4 was to take six days. What an amazing adventure that must have been for a nine year old boy. 
After living in Johannesburg for two years the family settled in Port Elizabeth in 1950. Michael attended Maritz Brothers College and matriculated from the school where Walmer Park stands today. He decided to study accountancy and became articled at P.G. IZOD and Co. In 1961 he joined my father in the brushware business and took control of the financial side of the business. 
I joined the company in 1969 and Michael and I worked together happily for 40 years. I would not have wished for a better or more reliable business partner. We had very few disagreements, but when we did we were able to discus our differences and work things out between us.

Michael married Gaye and they were blessed with thee children, Claire Beverly and Kevin. He was a devoted and loving husband and father to his children as well as a proud grandfather . 
He was a very gentle and caring person with a great love of animals and was a don or cat owner all his life. He could never turn anybody away when asked a favour. and this resulted in him taking on the treasury duties of just about every organisation of which he was a member. 

Michael joined Rotary in 2000 and became president  in 2004/2005. He was also sargent-at-arms for the last few years of his membership. He also became a member of Probus, an organisation of retired professional and business people and was president in 20012/2013, after which he became treasurer. 
He was aslo a keen bowler and a member of Mill Park Bowling Club playing competitively in various leagues and acting as treasurer for a good number of years.
If Michael had a vice – it was that he enjoyed an occasional flutter on the horses and playing poker. he was for eight years a member of the P.E. Poker Club. quite a prestigious poker playing organisation, and also acted as sargent-at-arms for them. I think he must have been quite a good poker player as I frequently  heard from his fellow members that he had fleeced them at their last meeting. He always denied this.

When Michael’s wife, Gaye passed away in 2014 he was obviously deeply saddened and mournful as anyone would be at the loss of a loved one. Fortunlately he met Lucille on a 1820 Settler outing and the two of them became companions with lots of love and hapiness shared by the two of them for the last years of his life. 
I never remember my brother paying a derogatory or negative word abuot anyone. he was well like and popular with all his friends and associates always with a smile and a quick chirp or two. He will be sadly missed by us all. 
Rest in Peace, big brother.

Egypt: Please pray for Moheb and Kim, Moheb’s mother and sister, who have all contracted COVID-19. Moheb has a lung infection and his mother and sister are up and down. Kim and the boys have recovered

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