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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Advent 4, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 19, 2010

Matthew 1:18-25

Bodies in the way of violent forces’

“Unpredictability is the untamed and intractable element, disturbing and exciting, the random element, in a word, that constitutes the risk of temporal being. When we do not know what tomorrow will bring, it is time to tremble and the heart beats faster” (Vladimir Jankelevitch, ‘Bergson and Judaism’). I’m thinking about the unpredictability within the story of a “virgin mother” and her partner’s unconventional decision to stand by her and her unborn child (the risk is to his own family’s “honour” and, of course, to his own tenuous place in the community). When we hear it merely as a story we already know we flatten the meaning and hinder the future’s coming to (surprise) us. We make of the holy story an “easy adventure” wherein “everything is already played out”.

There are many layers to this kind of story – connections to the stories of miraculous births and messianic promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, connections to various pagan stories of divine-human origin (quite “natural” in a Greco-Roman cultural context). The story also functions in defense of a pregnant peasant girl – and her young fiance called to discern/confer Dignity where others see only disgrace.

We ought to use the word “miracle” with great care. A miracle, in the Bible, not only points to the work of God, but participates in the love of God. It is not a magic trick. The invitation is not to applaud or even to remain in awe. The invitation is to understand what’s going on in the text – the miracle within but not contained by the text – in the most faithful, that is, the most loving, way ¬– and to repeat it differently. Once we have read and interpreted the story, then what? What difference does it make in our world? We might imagine the one near to us in great need of compassion and care, pleading, “So what?”

There were residents of Christmas Island who risked their lives to save refugees overwhelmed by the waves at Flying Fish Cove. In the face of this bravery and goodness, journalist David Marr laments that “most of us see those 30 dead on Christmas Island as proof that Australia needs to be tougher than ever on refugees who are so desperate that they would risk this dangerous voyage south” (David Marr, ‘Arms are extended but backs are turned’, SMH, Dec. 18-19, 2010).

Today’s Gospel is a story of risk, courage and trust in a God who is active in the ordinary lives of people like Mary and Joseph. God, says, Matthew, takes on risk and flesh at the margins of religious and political power. To appropriate the story for ourselves means asking what risks we are inspired to take for Christ’s sake. How are we called to do more than merely retell a familiar story? How are we called to discern/confer Dignity in our world where others see only disgrace? How are we called to participate in the saving and dignifying work of God in our world?

“In the areas we work”, says Emebet Woldeyes, from the Ethiopian Orthodox

Church’s Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission (DICAC), women and girls are “frequently physically and emotionally abused, particularly in early child marriages. Many people believe that a husband has the ‘right to correct his wife and children’. If she speaks out against the abuse, she will be outcast from the community. Women traditionally are not allowed to work outside of the home and are completely dependent on their husbands, with no means of their own income. Through developing Women’s Associations, educating the community and training the clergy to speak out to their congregations, we are making great strides to protect and empower women.”

To appropriate the Gospel for ourselves means asking what risks we are inspired to take for Christ’s sake. How are we called to do more than merely retell a familiar story? How are we called to discern/confer Dignity in our world where others see only disgrace? How are we called to participate in the saving and dignifying work of God in our world?

According to the December Bulletin of Uniting Earthweb: Two members of the Uniting Church were part of a group of approximately 70 people who were arrested on Sunday December 5 for blockading coal wagons entering Bayswater Power Station – Australia’s single largest source of carbon pollution.

Bayswater, near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, is the site of a second proposed power station (Bayswater B), one of 12 new coal power stations on the cards across Australia. At the same time, coal mining is undergoing massive expansion in the Hunter Valley – with implications not just for climate change but also farming and other rural industries, and for human and ecological health. The NSW Government is approving record numbers of new coal mines… and construction underway at the Port of Newcastle will see a doubling of coal export capacity with further expansion planned.

Approximately 130 people, including several Christians, occupied the railway tracks adjacent to Bayswater. They were supported by hundreds more who remained by the roadside, including a group of Christians who observed a silent prayer vigil. The protestors refused to leave until the NSW Government declares a moratorium on new coal-fired power, and commits to no new coal in NSW and a transition to renewable energy. Ultimately, 73 people were arrested, including Justin Whelan of Paddington Uniting Church, and Miriam Pepper of South Sydney Uniting Church. Charges include enter and remain on rail infrastructure, failure to comply with police direction, and enter and remain on enclosed lands.

“I am inspired by the long Christian legacy of nonviolent direct action,” said Dr Pepper. “Throughout history, people of faith and love have shown their commitment to God’s kingdom of justice, peace and reconciliation of creation by putting their bodies in the way of forces that deny life. As a part of my own small journey of seeking to participate in and witness to this kingdom, I felt called to take similar action.”

Putting their bodies in the way of violent forces. Isn’t that what Mary and Joseph do? It’s a fitting way, also, to speak of God’s body – with reference to the cross and to various hostilities in the context of the nativity – the body of God-with-us in the flesh. Amen.