As the Patrons who have been with me over the last year know, I make a video every three months or so, sharing what I’ve been doing and what is coming up.
I thought I’d kick off the year with a Zoom meeting for my supporters, where I’d share what I’m working on but also give time for questions. I might even open it up for anyone who is considering being a supporter.
I was think of doing it on Wednesday 25th January, either during the day or the evening.
Well, you may have heard some say that Christmas trees are just a pagan symbol that Christians stole from other religions.
Though this idea is popular, it’s not actually based on much historical evidence.
The closest we have to anything like that is an old story about St Boniface – an English missionary who traveled to Germany to tell people about Jesus around the year 730AD.
The story goes that he came across some native Germans who were going to sacrifice a child to the god Thor in front of a large oak tree. To save the child, St Boniface chopped down the tree to the amazement of the Thor-worshippers, who had expected Boniface to be struck down by lightning.
In later accounts of the story, after the tree is chopped down, St Bonface noticed a small fir tree growing nearby. It was around Christmas time and so Boniface told the Germans:
“This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace, for your houses are built of the fir. It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
Now, we don’t know for sure if this later bit actually happened. But what we do know is trees were being used as a Christian symbol hundreds of years before St Bonface went to Germany.
Most likely the origin of Christmas trees goes way back to Medieval Times in the 5th century.
In an era when most people couldn’t read the bible for themselves, churches put on “Mystery” or “Paradise” Plays, in order to teach the people bible stories. December 24 had been assigned as the feast day of Adam and Eve in preparation for Christmas Day. The idea was that the sin of Adam & Eve was remembered before we remember the birth of the Messiah.
In the lead up to Christmas, the Medieval Church used to put on plays telling the whole story from the Garden of Eden to the coming of Christ. One of the main features of this play was what they called a “Paradise Tree”. It was an evergreen tree that they hung red apples and white wafers on. The red apples represented the forbidden fruit and the white wafers represented Christ.
Believe it or not, this is actually where the tradition of hanging red baubles and other ornaments on the Christmas Tree came from. Over time, the idea of using a decorated evergreen tree to remember and celebrate the birth of Christ became a tradition not only for church plays, but also for Christians individually.
Lots of other religions have used trees and branches as part of the worship of their gods. But that doesn’t make trees themselves a pagan symbol. God’s people have had trees as part of their religious narrative from the very beginning – from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to the olive leaf telling Noah the Flood was over. Think of Moses and the burning bush, and the branches used in the Feast of Booths or to praise Jesus on Palm Sunday. The cross Jesus died on is even described as a tree, and in the last book of the Bible, the sign that the curse of death is gone is the return of the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.
Trying to tie down the history of the Christmas Tree to one thread is not easy. Two countries in Europe claim to be the first to host a Christmas Tree in their public square. Latvia claims it was in one of their cities in 1510, and Estonia claims they did it earlier in 1444.
But how did Christmas trees become a decoration that people would have in their own home?
Well, that tradition is attributed to the Christian reformer and German preacher, Martin Luther.
In 1536, one winter’s night before Christmas, Luther was walking through a pine forest near his house. He looked up and saw the beautiful stars twinkling through the tree branches. He was so moved, he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. Luther went, chopped down a smaller pine tree, brought it into his house and decorated it with candles to represent the stars. This is said to be the first time that lights were used to decorate a Christmas tree.
The story goes that Luther led his family in singing a hymn that he had written in 1531. These are the first two verses of that hymn:
Good news from Heav’n the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a Child is giv’n,
To crown us with the joy of Heav’n.
This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself our Saviour be,
From all our sins to set us free.
Now, we don’t know how this story about Martin Luther was spread, but from that point on we have evidence of Christmas trees growing in popularity, particularly in Germany.
The first official record of a Christmas tree being used is found in German Lutheran documents from the 16th century that state that in 1539 a Christmas tree was placed in the Cathedral of Strasbourg.
The earliest depiction of a Christmas tree is dated to 1576 and found in a keystone sculpture in an archway in early Germany.
By the early 1600s, decorated Christmas trees were a common tradition in Southern Germany, as one German writer reported in 1605:
“At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.”
But how in the last 400 years did Christmas trees spread from Germany to become such a staple part of Christmas traditions across the world?
By the 1800s, the tradition of Christmas trees has taken hold across all of Germany and was seen to be an expression of German culture. As Germans travelled the world they took this tradition with them, but it took a while to for it to be embraced by other countries.
German immigrants brought it to the US, but it was generally seen as a bit of a weird European practise. Because of this, the rumour developed that Christmas trees were a pagan idea, despite the fact that Christians had instigated and developed the tradition from the very beginning.
In fact, over the centuries, Christmas itself was frowned upon by many Protestants both in England and America, with Christmas celebrations being made illegal at different times in history.
It was the influence of the English Royal family that ultimately changed the attitude to Christmas and Christmas trees across the globe. On the 10th of February 1840, Queen Victoria married her German cousin, Prince Albert and with that, the German love of Christmas traditions came into the English monarchy. In 1841, Prince Albert had a Christmas tree set up at Windsor Castle and the public opinion of Christmas trees in England very quickly began to change.
Every year, Queen Victoria advertised their Christmas celebrations and these were illustrated and shared across, not only the British Empire, but also America. The English Royals were the trend-setting celebrity influencers of the 1800s and their customs, clothing styles and yes, holiday traditions shaped the fashion of the West.
Possibly the most significant month in the history of the Christmas tree, was December 1848, when the Illustrated London News published a drawing entitled “Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle”.
It portrayed the Royal couple with their children standing around a tree decorated with candles and ornaments and topped with an angel. This illustration went the 1800s equivalent of “viral” and with that, Christmas trees turned from being seen as some weird little German decoration, to the epitome of high fashion across the Western world.
The popularity of Christmas trees continued over the next two centuries, with the invention of electric lights, plastic decorations and artificial trees in the 1900s. Slowly, the Christmas tree, like Christmas itself, has become more and more commercialised and fake. Those old rumours of Christmas trees being just a pagan rip-off have resurfaced, and the Christian origins of the Christmas tree have been forgotten by many.
We no longer look at the red baubles and think of the fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
We don’t see the twinkling lights and reflect like Martin Luther, on the stars of the heavens.
But one tradition has stayed. Most people, whether Christian or not, still put either an angel or a star at the top of their Christmas tree – pointing to the angels who declared the birth of Jesus and the star that led the wise men to the Messiah that they were seeking.
The Christmas tree has had a very interesting history. If you have one set up at home, I hope you can remember these words from the story of St Boniface:
“It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are evergreen. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.”
Here’s a new Christmas song I have written for my church’s Community Carols event.
Our theme is “Oh Christmas Tree” and so I wanted to work out a way of writing a Christmas song about Christmas trees as well as pointing people to the gospel by the end.
As my wonderful Patrons, I thought I’d share it exclusively with you before releasing it to the world.
Note: This is song is just me sitting at home playing on my piano. Hopefully over the next few weeks, the song will be polished and improved. Hopefull with other instruments and most likely a better singer! I am looking forward to seeing how it develops.
Also, if you’d like to learn this song, I’ve attached a copy of the lyrics and chords below.
I recently was asked by The Gospel Coalition Australia to write an article on the ministry of public Bible reading.
This is a topic that I love and am passionate about, and although it was a challenge to finish the article with a newborn baby, I eventually did. Have a read of it here:
I not only love the ministry of public Bible reading, I also love to train church bible readers and I have done so for years at my church, Bundoora Presbyterian in Melbourne.
I am now in the process of putting together this training into a resource that other churches can use to equip their Bible readers to read with clarity, comprehension and conviction.
I have also purchased a domain name which will eventually be a website where I can make this resource available. At the moment though, it links to an Interest Form for those wanting access to this resource when it is complete.
If you are interested, please express your interest here:
I only put the form up a few days ago and already there has been lots of interest from churches in Australia, Singapore and the US. I feel that this may be one of the areas of ministry God may be preparing me for in 2023. I am so grateful to those who support me through Patreon, as I couldn’t do all this without their partnership.
Recently, I posted a comment on Facebook defending City on a Hill and its lead pastor Guy Mason in the wake of the whole saga surrounding the Andrew Thorburn being forced to quit from his role as CEO of the Essendon Football Club due to his involvement with the church.
A journalist from the Herald Sun saw this and got in contact with me for an interview. Honestly, I think they were trying to get Guy Mason, or anyone from the church, but in the absence of that, they settled for someone who looked like he sort of knows them!
In the end, they only used a couple of lines from me, so I thought I’d share the whole interview here. I have edited out the irrelevant bits and I have kept the name of the journalist private as this is not meant to reflect on them at all. For the text below, I have used HS to represent Herald Sun.
Simon: Hello, Simon speaking.
HS: Hi, Simon. It’s <> from the Herald Sun. How are you?
Simon: Very good. How are you?
HS: Good. Thank you. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
(They then asked me some questions to establish how I knew City on a Hill and Guy Mason. I told them that I had worked with them on rare occasions on some ministry opportunities, that I have had some contact with Guy over the last 10 years and that I was invited to read the bible at their church’s Christmas Eve service last year.
We also talked about how I had made a Facebook post about Guy and City on a Hill, supporting them during this time.)
HS: I just wanted to ask you about, what you were saying about Christian views, particularly in your post and us the media, and the reaction to these of them being extreme views. But can you tell me from your own words, what prompted you to write this post that you tagged Guy in? And your comments on the whole issue and that would be really great, Simon. Thank you.
Simon: Sure. I think I posted that just to show when – initially, I didn’t realize that it was sitting on the hill, that Guy headed up when the whole issue was happening over the last couple of days and then when I discovered I went, oh, wow, this is really close to home. I know this church, and the way it’s being represented as almost like a fringe, extreme church with fringe extreme views, whereas what they teach is what most Christian churches teach and what they teach is the classic Christian positions on issues of sexuality, on issues of the value of children in the womb, and of all people and those sorts of things. So, it was just interesting hearing it being described as extreme views, or even controversial, because within Christian communities, definitely these topics get discussed, but the positions that what I understand they hold are not really controversial amongst many Christians. And I do think sometimes the way snippets of their teaching have been used, I think it probably misrepresented them a little bit. So, in regards to abortion, often the thing that was getting quoted around every was that they equate abortion with, was it a concentration camp?
HS: The gas chambers. Yeah.
Simon: Yeah. Like, if you look at what they’re saying, they were saying, like other atrocities or other things that we now consider, we’ll look back on that in history and go, “How did we do that?” Which is still saying that an abortion is wrong, but it’s not a one to one equating abortion with gas chambers. It’s not saying it IS gas chambers. It’s using it in the same category of things that we look back on, and think now are our evil and it was in that sermon – which I haven’t heard the whole sermon to give its context – but even from the bits that I read, that was the point I was thinking being made. So, yes, I think sometimes people misunderstand either the positions of the church, or they think that those positions are being portrayed as really fringe ideas, but they’re ideas that Christians have grappled with, and taught and thought about in the whole wider community of Christians, since Jesus began the church.
HS: I think what you said [in your Facebook post] was really interesting, that also just about the controversial and extreme and it’s a sad indictment on the luke-warmness of the church in general, that this community could be thought of as extreme. From your view, just relating that to Andrew Thorburn resigning, what kind of precedent is that set for religious freedom and other people that sit on boards, or even other whether you’re Catholic, Christian, Islamic, whatever you are because your church holds that view? What do you say about that?
Simon: Yeah, I think the biggest concern – and I’ve been chatting with Christian friends and it’s raised a level of concern – is that the fact that it was a football club and he was given an ultimatum based on a question about sexuality. There’s a whole range of things where I think it may be appropriate to say this person’s right for this job or not right for this job. If there’s a direct relationship between the job, what they’re asked to do, and the religious view. I don’t think it’s super clear and cut, but it did make me and other friends go well, wow, our workplaces have positions on LGBT inclusion, and we’re all supportive of LGBT inclusion as people feeling welcome and safe. But our theological position on what is or isn’t sin in God’s eyes, there’s a concern about will that be something that jeopardizes our employment one day. And that’s raised that question and discussion for a lot of Christians, I think. Is this – not to be Chicken Little – but to go, is this a precedent for how our culture expects that if you believe certain things about sexuality, and about the controversial issue of abortion, and the value of human life in the womb? If you sit on one side of these issues, will that jeopardize your employment, even in jobs that have nothing to do with abortion, or LGBT advocacy or things like that?
HS: Oh, absolutely. I was going to ask you for the story, when you said you’ve known and seen Guy for many years, and how many years would you’ve known him for?
Simon: Oh, possibly over the last 10 years, I think. So, we’ve had just different circles of ministry and so I know he’s a man who loves Jesus, and he’s a man of integrity and grapples with these things quite sensitively. He truly cares for people and doesn’t treat these issues lightly.
HS: Yeah and so, I just wanted to ask you about what’s been said about him? Obviously, he had his say, on Sunrise this morning.
Simon: Yeah, I haven’t seen that yet.
HS: So, with the things that are coming out, what would you say to defend his character as you just said before, he is very passionate about sensitively bringing these issues to light. But what would you say about that?
Simon: Can you maybe give me an example of something that is being said?
HS: Yeah, for example, on sevennews.com.au, they’ve said Andrew Thorburn has declined to address his views on abortion and homosexuality. So, Kochi put the questions to him that they’re saying he’s gone head to head with a pastor, essentially, and all of that. Basically, with the fallout with Essendon, what I’m mainly asking is, with some of the public’s negative reaction towards Guy Mason, what would you say to them, essentially about the kind of person that you know, from working with him previously? Do you think that is an incorrect assessment of people that are outraged by his beliefs?
Simon: Yeah, I definitely think that on this issue, you’re either lumped in one camp or another. You either are celebrating everything to do with the LGBT advocacy, or you’re hating. So, it’s either one or the other. I was really upset by how Dan Andrews painted City on a Hill as hateful and bigoted, without even knowing. He was just presented with some ideas that someone had said, and he’s supposed to be governing all of us and he didn’t go “Well, wait, I need to actually follow that up, find out if that’s true about this community of people, actually ask them what they believe.” But he jumped to characterizing them publicly as hateful and bigoted. I thought that was really irresponsible of Dan Andrews, and not good governing. And so, I think you get put in one category or another, and the Christian position is nuanced. It’s that there are beliefs about God’s intention for sexuality and marriage, and human life in regards to abortion and things like that, and a commitment to love people, to understand that we’re all messy, that we all have a journey, that we’re all welcome. The message of the Gospel is that Jesus invites all to repent, all to receive forgiveness, all to come into relationship with God. No one is excluded from that invitation and the churches should display that. But also to be faithful to Jesus, we have to teach what the Bible says about sexuality and about life and marriage and those sort of things as well. So, I think if anyone actually sat down with Guy Mason, and had a coffee with him, they would find him to be a compassionate, loving, thoughtful, Christian man. It’s sad if he’s portrayed as hateful or bigoted.
(We then ended the interview and wrapped up the conversation. A couple of minutes later they rang back and said that City on a Hill had removed the 9 year old sermon that had caused some of the controversy. They wanted to ask my reaction to that.)
HS: Did you think it was the right thing to do given that the comment was taken out of context and had caused controversy? I just wondered if you have any thoughts about that?
Simon: Only the churches are thinking about their public statements and how best to communicate via online. And with things so easily being able to be taken out of context, or misunderstood, it’s important to make sure that the message is being communicated rightly. I think churches across the whole of Australia at the moment are thinking about how, if people want to try to find dirt on you, how they’ll be searching through nine years’ worth of sermons to find one line. I think a lot of churches are thinking about their online presence and how best to make sure that they’re not misrepresented or misunderstood.
HS: Sure, would you say personally, that you support that this was a good approach for them to do that and as sensitively as possible?
Simon: Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to be shy about their position on abortion or sexuality. Their name is “City on a Hill”! You know? I think they’re just thinking through how best to do it wisely.
Here is the article that they quoted me in. It was posted in the Herald Sun newspaper on Friday 7th October 2022.
I’d like to introduce you to my son, Peter Samuel Camilleri. Born at 10:50pm on Thursday 15th September, weighing 3.8kg.
I have always loved the name Peter and wanted to call my first son that name (ever since I was around twelve).
We gave him the middle name of Samuel because of the meaning of the name in the bible…
So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” (1 Samuel 1:20)
Read the full story in 1 Samuel 1:6-20.
As some of you may know, my wife Cat and I had been praying for another child and a sibling for our daughter Dot for many, many years now.
We were content for God to answer “no” to our prayers, knowing that His plans and His timing is perfect. But we are very grateful that He showed us this kindness. I especially feel that it is a wonderful testimony to Dot of the goodness of God and the persistence of prayer.
I have five weeks off from my normal day job (as a graphic designer) to spend time with my family of four and to help run the house in these early crazy newborn days.
I am still working on a couple of ministry projects which I will tell you about in my next quarterley report coming at the end of this month.
Every year my church, Bundoora Presbyterian Church, holds a creative arts night to raise funds for missionaries, which we call Bundy Unplugged. At this event I have the opportunity to perform songs, poetry and yes, magic tricks.
This year I performed one I call “Lost & Found”.
Watch the video of it (shown above) and if you want to try the trick at home, go grab four different cards that you are ok with ripping up. It’s a lot of fun and it was a great opportunity to perform alongside my 7 year old daughter, Dot – whose magical stage name is Little Miss Direction.
The trick also has a surprising ending and I thought I could maybe share some of the magical secrets of how it was done with my patrons on my Patreon Page. If that is something you might enjoy, tell me in a comment and also before I give anything away, tell me your theories for how I did it!