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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Advent 2, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:7ff; Matthew 3:1-12

Reorientation’

John’s rustic appearance evokes the prophet Elijah, believed to herald a new Messianic age. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way …, Make straight the path …” (Isaiah 40) refers to the return of Jews from exile in Babylon. John’s baptising in the Jordan, affecting a new exodus to take the holy land – is a symbolic challenge to those in power, Herod Antipas in Galilee and the Romans in Judea (along with religious leaders colluding with oppressive rule). The meaning of John’s actions is plain: the people remain in Babylonian captivity. And reliance on one’s religious tradition or heritage does no good without living a life in alignment with the values of a Messianic age. “The only thing that will count at the judgment, says John, will be ‘bringing forth the fruits of repentance’: good deeds issuing from … genuinely converted heart[s]” (Brendan Byrne).

Today we are challenged, like those who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

“The spurious discourse over symbolism versus practical outcomes, over rights versus responsibilities, and the notion that a collective or a community is somehow at odds with the rights and aspirations of individuals, still remains on the lips of many well-intentioned Australians.

“The place of Aborigines in the constitutional and institutional frameworks of our nation has to be approached from the point of understanding what our greatest fears are about such a discussion and its outcomes. This should not daunt us. We have seen that indigenous ceremony and symbols can be incorporated into the Parliament, and that change to institutions is possible …” (Pat Dodson, ‘Should we alter our constitution to recognize indigenous Australians’, SMH, Dec. 4-5, 2010).

“When the national apology was delivered in 2008, Aborigines were grateful. It was a wonderful occasion, and a great moment of healing for my people. But the good will generated soon dried up. While the apology was well received, it didn’t change how the Rudd government dealt with Aborigines. It also came without any form of compensation, despite a promise by Labor in opposition it would make restitution if elected.

“… Can you imagine the outcry … if the former NSW premier, Bob Carr, suggested to the victims of the James Hardie outrage that they were entitled to an apology but no compensation?” (Bev Manton, ‘Should we alter our constitution to recognise indigenous Australians’, SMH, Dec. 4-5, 2010).

Today we are challenged, like those who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

“They over-geared and I think that might have been encouraged by the macho culture in our diocese. Sydney’s had that for some time but it’s perhaps become a little worse under the current administration.

“The representation of women has been fairly pathetic. They can’t use any theological argument for that. We’ve got lots of qualified, competent women who are part of our church …” (Rev. Philip Bradford, ‘Macho boys’ club “cost Anglicans millions”’, SMH, Dec. 4-5, 2010).

Today we are challenged, like those who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

“The two big supermarkets (Coles and Woolworths) control almost 55-60 per cent of Australia’s grocery sector, and increasing urban sprawl in Sydney threatens some of the most productive agricultural land in the state – land that has traditionally supported small family farmers, many of them immigrants, and provided the city with much of its fresh vegetables and poultry.

“To combat this, food advocacy network, the Sydney Fod Fairness Alliance, is calling for government to commission a land capability study to identify prime agricultural land on the urban fringe, and to implement planning legislation to protect such land from development.

“Although still small, the potential of community food initiatives is considerable. What is also clear is that they are not just about caring for the environment; nor are they about supporting the livelihoods of small farmers, or even about health concerns regarding conventionally grown food.

Community food initiatives are about the hospitality and relationships that come with the sharing of food. In proactively rebuilding connections with food growing and food supply, people in cities and towns are rebuilding their communities … To change the culture of a society is a really difficult struggle and at times sets us against governments, multinationals, media and vested interests. But it can be done …” (Ross Neville and Miriam Pepper, ‘Food builds community’, Insights magazine, November, 2010).

Today we are challenged, like those who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

“I am Helen Peter Gemma, Peace & Justice Coordinator in Western Juba County for the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC). Civic Education was the major issue in achieving a peaceful result in Sudan’s first democratic elections in 26 years, and the work continues for the referendum to follow in 2011. We work with women and youth, educating them on the importance of registering to vote. They then facilitate workshops in their villages. We explain how the democratic system in the country works for them and not against them. If Sudan wants to be a democratic country, then people must use their vote and no longer allow force to determine outcomes …

“We are very grateful for your gifts through Act for Peace which will help us to continue these exercises right through until the referendum. Without awareness, many people will not register. If they don’t, the result will not represent the will of the people. I’m determined to see that the referendum is free and fair and that the people are given what they need to live freely” (Christmas Bowl Resources, Act for Peace, NCCA, 2010).

Today we are challenged, like those who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

John’s image for the work of the Messiah, the anticipation of whom calls for reorientation (repentance), is one of strict judgement – chaff separated from wheat. Later in Matthew’s Gospel it will become evident that John has doubts as to whether Jesus fits the role of fearsome judge. The judgement Jesus brings is accompanied by an authoritative assurance of compassion. One commentator writes: “We are less comfortable today with the idea of an end-time judgment that is so much a part of the ‘eschatological package’ early Christianity derived from apocalyptic Judaism. However, we must remember that in its origins the judgment was something to be executed on behalf of the righteous – part of their liberation – rather than a threat hanging over them. God will institute judgment not to sort out everyone with grim impartiality, but to vindicate and free those who have been oppressed.” The same commentator adds in a later section of his commentary: “The ‘slackers’ in the community needed reminding of that [judgmental] prospect so that they might hear John’s message as something applicable to themselves as well as to the Judean crowds” (Brendan Byrne).

Today we are challenged, like those (“slackers” and others) who came to see the Baptist, to re-orient our lives so that we are made ready for the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion.

The Good News is that no stump of Jesse, no hardened tradition or deadened heart, is incapable of bearing new shoots, new life. In the Spirit of God, Jesus is the Coming One who brings a reign of justice and equity, peace and compassion. How might you receive this Good News today? … Amen.