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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Advent 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 18, 2011

Luke 1:26-38


As I sit to write this, I have Johnny’s paintings before me. I can see more than 100 people here in the church; red dots on the walls beneath the artworks; Adam Hill full of praise for the “mentor” he calls “one of the masters”; Johnny smiling and speechless. Towards the end of the evening, Johnny said to me: “Sometimes it’s just perfect – it was a perfect night.” We are blessed to host this show – Johnny’s first solo show in 10 years – it’s high-quality work; it’s inspiring work for our artists and teachers; and its invitation to dance is fitting as we celebrate Christmas, the good news of a God who dances the world toward wellness and wholeness. “A star, a star, dancing in the night …” It’s perfect.

Dance means we move our bodies. Dance means we interact, we partner, we accompany, we respond, we go beyond mere thought, mere theory. At its best, dance wholly involves us even as we let go self-consciousness. At its best, dance unites us – with musical movement, with the song … There is something verypositive about dance. When we dance, we say Yes.

You can probably anticipate where this is heading. In today’s Gospel, Mary says Yes. “Here I am, the servant of our God,” she says to the angel Gabriel. “Let it be with me according to your word.” It is Mary’s faith, Mary’s trust, Mary’s openness to Creativity that draws a blessing. Her Yes to God – the magnification of her soul – a Yes from the margins of human history – makes way for the coming of the Promised One, the Saviour who is God’s Yes to the world.

All of which suggests, to me at least, that Yes may well be a word that brings us very close to God. It may even be a good word for God – especially for those who find the word “God” untenable. If I think about our Artist in Residence, he is someone who, long ago it would seem, said Yes to art-making. In quite a pure sense, too. Adam Hill made reference to Johnny’s “religion”.

Johnny is sometimes referred to as an “outsider” artist. He hasn’t played according to the rules of those who run the big, commercial galleries. He doesn’t seek the spotlight, nor opportunities to advance a professional “career”. And yet there’s no mistaking his love of people and attention to detail – there was no mistaking the look of love on the young face of Lani, Johnny’s granddaughter; her face shining as we lauded Johnny’s work and status in the community. “Yes, that’s my granddad!”

To what have you said Yes? To whom have you said Yes? To what might you say Yes? To whom might you say Yes? Perhaps you’ve known the power of another’s Yes to you? What was that like?

There are “yeses” I have spoken – to friends and lovers, in terms of vocation and ministry, outwardly and secretly – in a stammering way and under the pressure of greater affirmation. It’s so hard to sustain the “yeses” we say and want to say again. How hard it must have been for Mary to maintain faith in the awareness of hardship and rejection of her child. How hard for the evangelists – Luke and Matthew – to maintain praise for Mary and her child in the context of derision on the part of those unable to accept a Messiah from the margins. The Holy Spirit is the power of affirmation: Yes, even in hardship; Yes, even in the face of derision; Yes, from the margins; Yes, in older age; Yes, in the insecurities of youth; Yes, in spite of failures; Yes, in spite of fears …

The Holy Spirit is also the power of affirmation in community: Yes, when all alone, it’s all too much. Let us hear from another young girl in Palestine – this time a voice from this year’s Christmas Bowl resources. Dina is eight years old and a refugee in Gaza, where 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and 40 per cent of people are unemployed.

“My name is Dina … I am in the third grade and I live in Al Mashahra neighbourhood in Gaza. I have lots of brothers and sisters and before there were seven of us, but my brother died of cancer and now there are six. I am very sad and I miss him. May his soul rest in peace.

“The social worker at the family centre told my mother about the psychosocial program and so my mother registered me there. I started participating in almost all of the activities, and I like all of the activities there, but I wish that they could include computer games in the program. In my spare time, I like to jump the rope and play with the wheel with my friends, and I like to swim and paint. When I grow up I want to become a teacher.

“I was very happy when we went to the beach. This was the first time I’ve been on a trip and it was one of the best days of my life. We played, and there were games and prizes for winners as well!

“We also receive medical services. I was very happy to participate in the program as I got to know many new friends. I will keep participating in the program all year. Thank you friends at Act for Peace (Christmas Bowl)!”

Support for the Christmas Bowl helps children like Dina, as well as her family, access basic health services and find ways to cope with the difficult daily struggle of life under occupation. Two hundred dollars can provide life-saving medicine for 10 children in Gaza.

Let’s complete the homily together. To what have you said Yes? To whom have you said Yes? To what might you say Yes? To whom might you say Yes? Perhaps you’ve known the power of another’s Yes to you? What was that like?Amen.