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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Advent 3, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 11, 2011

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

Joyous anticipation’

This third Sunday in Advent, we think about joy. We think about joy in the company of John the Baptist who embraces a singular commitment to God in Christ.John does not overthrow any rulers or bring down any corrupt systems, but comes as a witness to the light. He announces what is going to happen next

When Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica,telling them to rejoice and celebrate always, and to be thankful in all circumstances, it makes no sense if the only reference is to their present circumstances. The Thessalonian Christians are having a tough time. They are facing hostility and abusive treatment from others. Paul is not advocating some kind of masochistic pleasure in the present pain. Rather, he is calling them to look beyond it; to see that there is, nevertheless, much to celebrate.

He is asking them to engage in something psychologists call “reframing” …

Our Artist in Residence, Johnny Bell, has been working hard on a set of paintings for his show this month. It’s been a tough year for him and his family – many worries. And yet Johnny paints joyful scenes – couples dancing, people laughing and singing. There’s a reframing here. Last week we took delivery of Johnny’s paintings all beautifully framed. He’s even asked that the framer frame the works in such a way that Johnny can easily remove the images and do a little more work on them before we reframe them and hang them. My first picture of joyous anticipation is Johnny with invitation cardsfor his family and friends – Johnny with cards to herald his first solo show in more than 10 years. I hadn’t realised it was so long since he’d exhibited work – he’s so excited about the opening this Saturday.

Today’s homily is a series of scenes of joyous anticipation.

I switch on my laptop and my screen-saver images remind me of community members at the Alexandria Town Hall earlier this year receiving awards in recognition of their volunteer work. Smiling faces on my computer screen, each one anticipating a community where good works are ubiquitous; where differences are celebrated and resources are shared.

I recall, then, community members at the Redfern Community Centre on Friday night, gathered for the launch of a book called Vegans are Cool (edited by Kathy Divine). Each one of us was offered dinner and drinks, and received complementary “cruelty-free” cosmetics and a paper bag filled with vegan literature, including a little booklet by someone called The Supreme Master Ching Hai, who writes: “We must repent for all the harm done to the Earth and her inhabitants and ask again and again for forgiveness. And we have to reverse our action. And the best way to repent is to make an effort to change. Turn around, do what is good. Refrain from all that is bad ...” She sounds not dissimilar to John the Baptist, as she makes her appeal “... that we awaken everybody to the solution of the vegan diet, because that is the solution that will save our planet” (From Crisis to Peace, p. 106). I confess I feel the force of her appeal.

Another scene, a page from the Christmas Bowl’s “Worship Resources”. The face of Monico Ito Cayog of the Bogobo Tagabawa tribe in the southern province of the Philippines – whose Indigenous Lumad people are learning – by way of consultation and training funded by the Christmas Bowl – to resist large-scale mining operations and agri-business plantations. Thirty dollars, I read, can enable a young Indigenous person to attend consultation and training on human rights and civil liberties.

An email. SSH photographer Jemima Hall, who is in Phnom Penh for classes in the Khmer language before embarking on two months volunteer work in an orphanage, writes: “I’m in Cambodia. I’m over the moon!”

One commentator reflects on the witness of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.“One of the hardest things for the opponents of Desmond Tutu to deal with was [his] irrepressible joy and hope. His denunciation of injustice was always shaped by a clear and hope-filled proclamation of the inevitability of the day of freedom coming. In the face of Desmond Tutu’s continual joyous celebration of equality and freedom, it became more and more difficult for the advocates of inequality and oppression to hold their ground.

“The most powerful Christian organisation in the fight against apartheid was the South African Council of Churches. Desmond Tutu was its General Secretary until he became Bishop of Johannesburg. Because of its central role in organising the opposition to apartheid, the South African Council of Churches became a target for violent reprisals and in 1988 a huge bomb blew up its office building. Staff arrived to devastation but they sang and danced in the street as an act of defiance. They continued to celebrate, to proclaim the day of freedom, because their spirits were not crushed, their vision was undiminished and they knew that the mere demolition of a building could not halt what God was doing in their midst. If you listen to the music of the South African freedom struggle, you’ll hear it clearly. You don’t hear songs that speak of anger at injustice and hatred of the oppressors. You hear celebrations of what is coming. ‘Freedom! Freedom is Coming! O Freedom! Freedom is coming! O yes I know!’” (Nathan Nettleton).

When Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica,telling them to rejoice and celebrate always, and to be thankful in all circumstances, it makes no sense if the only reference is to their present circumstances. The Thessalonian Christians are having a tough time. They are facing hostility and abusive treatment from others. Paul is not advocating some kind of masochistic pleasure in the present pain. Rather, he is calling them to look beyond it; to see that there is, nevertheless, much to celebrate.

He is asking them to engage in something psychologists call “reframing”…

Rejoice and celebrate always, and be thankful in all circumstances, because when we look at the bigger picture of what our God is coming to do, we can see that the pain of the present will not have the last word.

This is not escapism. It is not a minimising of very real suffering. Rather, it is an active and powerful protest against the harsh realities of the present, and a refusal to let them dictate the terms and conditions of our lives.

Friends, we are called to joyous anticipation – we are called to be a people ahead of our time, a people who can celebrate now the coming of the reign of peace we have glimpsed in the One who suffered the worst of the world, but rose above it and drew around it a new and bigger frame of resurrection life, and freedom. Some may sneer and say we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, but they’ve always said that about people ahead of their time. And joyous anticipation is contagious. It can inspire and empower others to join us in making straight the way of the Promised One.

Let’s complete the homily together. Is there a scene of joyous anticipation you might like to share? Amen.